Are managers leaders? Are leaders managers?

May 6 , 2019 •  5 minute read • by Saeed

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker

The debate about management vs. leadership is a long standing one in organizational development literature. The terms “management” and “leadership” are often interchanged. Some, view management as distinct from leadership as day is from night. One key distinction often made between management and leadership is that as managers, we manage things (physical assets, processes, and systems) and as leaders, we lead people (customers, external and internal partners).

This is a false distinction.

While it is important to recognize the differences between leadership and management, it is also important to appreciate that the two have complementary strengths, as well. In fact, both are necessary for a high-performance organization. The truth is managers need to be good leaders – their people need vision, consideration, and guidance! And leaders need to be good managers of the resources entrusted to them!

So how do you do both?

  1. Be Mission Oriented: Never lose sight of the mission, purpose, and results you need to achieve. Put out the fires, yes, but try not to be distracted and forced into applying your energy in different directions. While these difficulties often need to be attended to, don’t allow them to diffuse your impact.
  2. Shoot for the Moon: Almost anyone can achieve easy goals. But what is your competition aiming for? Good leaders use their visioning skills to set Big Hairy Audacious Goals with a thorough understanding of how to reach them… not with reckless abandon. Good managers set up systems to help their people achieve the goals.
  3. Take the coach approach: good leaders and managers are also good coaches. They know that there are teaching moments and learning opportunities around every corner and they keep a pulse on their employees levels of engagement through structured coaching conversations. Not only must you coach your people, you must also change the culture to a mindset of a learning organization – a coaching culture if you will. You cannot be the only coach — the entire organization needs to know the skills, have the technologies, and create the atmosphere that allows people to help develop others through both formal and informal experiences.
  4. Be a role model: At the end of the day, people watch what you do, not what you say. Remember always that you are a role model of the organization who sets the standard by being a person of good character, knowing your job, and doing all that matters to advance the work. The standards you set are the standards that will be followed.
  5. Create inclusive environments: Diversity makes an organization effective by capitalizing on all of the strengths of each employee. It is about empowering people by understanding, valuing, and using the differences in every person. Mastering diversity leads to inclusion where all people feel they are highly valued for their uniqueness. In turn, the organization benefits from the synergistic effects of a cohesive team who bring an array of experiences to the table.

A Final Word

In order for you to engage your staff in providing the best service to your customers, clients or partners, you must enroll them in your vision and align their perceptions and behaviors. You need to get them excited about where you are taking them while making sure they know what’s in it for them. With smaller organizations, the challenge lies in making sure you are both leading your team as well as managing your day to day operations. Those who are able to do both, will create a competitive advantage. Both management and leadership are needed to make teams and organizations successful. Trying to decide which is more important, is like trying to decide whether the front or back wheel is more important to balancing a bicycle.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

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©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Why It’s Time to Ditch Your Performance Reviews

April 10 , 2019 •  5 minute read • by Saeed

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” 

-Ken Blanchard

Most employees look forward to their performance review the way they look forward to a funeral. They are equally dreaded by the managers who deliver them.

Despite the goal, you give employees constructive feedback about their work to encourage individual performance, most are a dreary exercise in further disillusionment, disconnection and demoralization.

That’s because in many organizations today, reviews aren’t really designed to help employees grow; they’re designed to manage promotions and raises or to go through the motions of performance management and accountability.

Instead, the performance management system goal should be to provide on-going coaching and feedback to employees with the aim of developing and improving employee performance and team effectiveness.

This requires that employees receive on-going constructive feedback about their job performance in relation to their goals, their approach to innovation and the opportunities before them to create value.

Compare this to top flight athletes. They don’t receive reviews a couple of times of year.  If they did, they’d fail.  Rather, they receive on-going coaching.  This type of feedback creates an immediate awareness of what they’re doing right and what they need to do to overcome barriers and do even better.

With this in mind, perhaps it’s time to ditch this archaic exercise.

Master the Coaching Conversation

There are progressive companies out there that have moved away from traditional performance reviews, in favor of creating cultures of coaching, feedback, development, and high performance.

Such organizations have managed to re-shape their cultures to ones based on coaching; where everyone in a leadership role is trained on how to coach.  In this way, leaders give their employees constant performance feedback, which in turn, engages employees and creates a desire to continuously improve.

Rather than once or twice yearly, coaching happens throughout the year; possibly every day.  And because it is on-going, it eliminates the need for formal annual appraisals and reviews.

You can begin by incorporating the constructive aspects of reviews in your existing one-on-one meetings as an opportunity for feedback and coaching.  You can dedicate time during these sessions to a discussion on how the person can enhance their own performance and play to their strengths.  In so doing, you remove the unconstructive focus on ratings.

I’ve often heard that managers resist the concept of on-going coaching because they believe it is too time-consuming. Actually, it is quite the opposite.

Managing poor performance is extremely time consuming.

In the traditional system, you have to provide written reviews, spend time with employees to discuss these reviews, monitor progress made based on these reviews and provide corrective feedback as required.

In contrast, on-going coaching might take 5 minutes of a manager’s time every week. Yet it is a powerful force in demonstrating the concern the Manager has for her employee’s development. With such enhanced and regular communication and interaction, corrective measures are more easily and seamlessly applied and results are visible fairly quickly.

You can structure your conversations to first receive an update on the one to three action items agreed to at the last meeting. Second, ask for a success story or a moment of pride. Third, brainstorm either a solution to a problem or an opportunity to pursue. And fourth, agree on one to three action items that the employee will focus on in the coming week.

A Final Word

Coaching conversations are not performance reviews; they are discussions. So talk less and let your employee talk more. Sit back, listen, ask questions for clarity. When it’s your turn to speak, give positive and constructive feedback. Tell your employee what she did well and where you see opportunities for growth. Specific examples are always helpful.

If your employee is doing most of the talking – about her wins and challenges, how she’s learning and growing – then you’ve mastered the art of the coaching conversation.


Good Luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Let’s Get Over the Fear of Giving and Receiving Feedback

November 29, 2017 • 4 minute read • by Saeed

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” ~ Ken Blanchard

Let’s get real about this.

The workplace is a beehive of feedback whether we ask for it or not. Things like facial expressions, gestures, silence, reactions, etc. give us a sense of how people are reacting to us and/ or our work. Moreover, when we receive direct feedback, much is offered very cautiously because most colleagues want to be supportive and friendly, after all everyone realizes that you will continue to work together after the feedback is delivered. All the more important that the feedback relationship be a productive one.

But feedback is marred by stigma. Employees are afraid all they’ll hear is negative feedback and criticism. Supervisors anticipate a defensive response to whatever they say and however they say it. As a result, feedback is not practiced or incorporated into the fabric of the organization and consequently one of the potentially most effective tools for performance improvement remains underutilized. Most people appreciate and need feedback to improve performance and advance their careers.

So, here are some quick tips to help you give and receive feedback. At the end of this article, I’ll point you to another resource to get an even more in depth understanding of feedback and its role in the modern workplace.

How to Give Feedback

Interpersonal conflict in work teams is inevitable.  Indeed, some level of tension works to feed creativity and motivation.  But when the behavior or attitude of a teammate is interfering with the team’s efficacy, you may find it necessary to provide some challenging feedback.

Below are some things that may be helpful in delivering feedback, especially when presenting difficult feedback:

1.      Choose the right place and time. Offer your feedback in a private, quiet place where your teammate won’t feel embarrassed or defensive. Feedback should be immediate or close to the time of when the task was completed.

2.      Focus on behavior. Discuss how current behavior is causing unintended results. Do not ever make the feedback about personality. That only generates a defensive response. Outline how current behavior is impacting the team as a whole.  Try to be specific and support your ideas with examples.

3.      Create an alliance. Ask permission to offer suggestions or ask if you can suggest possible changes in behavior or attitude.

4.      Mutual reinforcement. Try to explain how both of you might benefit from a change. Try to tie it to the larger goal or vision for the project or the organization. In other words, contextualize the feedback whenever possible to make it a greater learning opportunity.

5.      Make it two-way. Make sure that the exchange is a conversation, not an attack, a lecture, or a reprimand. Do this by asking questions and allowing the recipient to come to their own conclusions or to offer their own ideas.

6.      Be attentive. Give the other party plenty of time to respond and listen attentively. Remember, this is a dialogue not a monologue. Listen for areas of concern or areas where further development, training, and coaching may be needed.

7.      Check your language. Use the pronouns “I” and “We” rather that “you.”

8.      Check your tone. Don’t be the least bit condescending. Don’t get defensive or overly aggressive. Avoid aggressive language.

How To Receive Feedback

Let’s face it, if feedback is critical, it may hurt. We all say we want feedback, but some of us just want validation and not necessarily to know have some work to do. It hurts our ego to learn we are imperfect. Still, feedback must be embraced if we are to get better. Since we grow and learn from honest and constructive feedback, it is important keep in mind the guidelines below for receiving feedback effectively:

1.      Don’t be defensive. Even if the feedback is hard to hear, stay cool, ask honest questions, and process the intent of the feedback before you react.

2.      Listen for the unspoken message.  Sometime you have to read between the lines to find the true feedback.

3.      Don’t listen selectively.  Try to take in the whole of the feedback.  Don’t focus on one statement or one detail that rubs you the wrong way.

4.      Ask follow up questions.  To discover the underlying truth of the feedback you receive, you may have to ask questions that call for elaboration, examples, clarification, and details.

5.      Don’t blame the feedback provider. Unless they are just destroying you, assume an honest intention and recognize that giving feedback is also an art. Not many people are good at it.

6.      Don’t react emotionally. Receiving feedback can be nerve racking so try to stay relaxed.   If you hear something surprising, take time to think it through before you react.

7.      Be receptive.  Establish yourself as a person who will listen thoughtfully to feedback.  This doesn’t mean that you have to accept all criticism, it just shows that you are eager to improve and grow.

8.      Absorb and Act.  Not all feedback is useful but through honest introspection you can decipher those parts of the feedback that will help you find success.  Once you have done this, then set a course of action to incorporate it into your performance.

For feedback to be really effective, it should be woven into the culture of the organization. The ‘constant feedback workplace’ is one in which employees and supervisors learn to interact around feedback to improve performance and productivity. For a deeper dive in creating a feedback culture and making the most of employee feedback, see my recent article titled 6 Criteria for Providing Feedback That is Heard. In the meantime, use the incorporate the tips above immediately into your daily work because feedback is the most promising tool for behavioral change that managers have at their disposal.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate that you are reading my post. If you found it helpful, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to read exclusive content on my BLOG.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.

I also love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.



©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

6 Secret Weapons To Supervise Like A Superhero

May 22, 2017 •  4 minute read • by Saeed

“With great power comes great responsibility” – Voltaire and Uncle Ben from the Spider-Man comic books.

First off, I am by no means suggesting that you should wear tights and a cape to work. Unless you want to of course, in which case I would suggest checking the employee manual beforehand for appropriate dress code at your workplace.

That aside, this post is about developing your core supervision muscles. By making the following list of practices second-nature and part of a daily habit, the people you work with will come to know that when they’re in trouble, they can rely on you to save the day.

Let’s dive in.

Secret Weapon #1: Stand On Top of Skyscrapers

Not literally of course. The English verb “supervision” is derived from the two Latin words “super” (above) and “videre” (see, observe). To supervise, in other words, means having a birds-eye-view. It means not being shackled down by a narrow perspective. Superman literally had super-vision. When superheroes are faced with a conflict or difficult decision, you often find them on top of a skyscraper contemplating their next move. In the same way, try gaining a balcony view of the issue at hand so you can make a better decision. Learn to step outside of the pool where everyone else is drowning and look at things from a different vantage point. The new perspective will help you make a better decision.

Secret Weapon #2: Build a Shied of Self-Knowledge and Self-Management

If you can’t manage yourself, you have no business managing others. Being able to reflect on who you are and to contemplate your own behavior is the source of great achievement. It can also be the source of many pitfalls. Taking things too personally, being overly self critical, or mistrusting your own instincts are all possible side effects of too much inward turning. These self defeating tendencies can have a huge impact on how well you function at work.

Neophyte supervisors tend to feel insecure and even attacked when people disagree with them or criticize their approach. If you feel that your co-workers are constantly “shooting you down” and think that the subtext of many of your conversations with them shows that they are right and you are wrong – you may be struggling with defensiveness. Don’t be defensive! Be proactive instead. Use consistent and assertive communication skills and be clear about tasks, goals, and objectives you set for your team. Check in regularly to make sure expectations are managed accordingly. Manage yourself better and your team will manage themselves better.

Secret Weapon #3: Don’t Mask Your Identity

Thick masks and helmets limit the superhero’s peripheral vision and the ability to connect authentically with people. That is why superheroes have an alter ego (think Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne). Most supervisors are inadequately trained for their role and are only in it because of consecutive promotions (in some superhero comics, the reluctant hero is conscripted into saving the world by some kind of sinister secret agency).

Moreover, many supervisors are subject to pressures from above and below (middle management trap) and come into the battlefield with their own vulnerabilities. To compensate, they may pretend to be something they are not. Regardless, the nature of the supervisory encounter is rife with power and authority. Each party brings to it their personal (Diana) and professional (Wonder Woman) identities, knowledge, skills, beliefs, worldviews and the impact of life experiences.

Start with understanding your supervision style. Know and understand how your style fits with that of your team members. In my experience, when these relationships are collaborative, transparent and open to constructive input, both parties benefit. The supervisory relationship should be a collaborative one centered around mutual respect and a shared agenda: We all want to save Gotham City. Doing so means working together.

Weapon #4: Embrace What Makes You Different

Embracing what makes you different, is exactly what Steve Jobs did to spectacular success. Every superhero has a special set of skills that makes them different than the next. That’s what makes the Justice League a superior force against global villainy. Jobs had a notorious ability to be focused. He complimented it with an embrace of Zen Philosophy and simplicity.

He also dared to be different and had a dogged self-belief that pushed him through difficult times. As a superhero or supervisor, you must be able to bounce back quickly from defeat. Wolverine is the most famous superhero with a healing power that allows him to recover from injuries, but lots of other heroes have this, including Deadpool and the Hulk. Cultivating this ‘power’ is paramount to success as a leader. It is the very definition of resiliency.

Secret Weapon #5: Know Your Strengths and Know Your Weaknesses

Superheroes understand their strengths and weaknesses.  Even though their weaknesses can sometimes be complicated (like radioactive fragments of their home planets), more often than not, they are super obvious: easily overwhelmed senses, an unprotected face or an unwieldy cape . You may think your weaknesses are hidden from view by your protective armor but don’t be surprised to find that people can see right through you.

Superheroes plan around their weaknesses. They augment their strengths through learning and adaption.

There are actually two types of strengths – the known (realized) and the unknown(unrealized). Your known powers will almost always come without any difficulties or inconveniences. The unknown powers however only come when you are truly tested.

To be super, means being able to harness both. Theodore Roosevelt had a famous quote admiring those in the ‘arena’ of life who are “willing to be marred by dust and sweat and blood.” You have to be in the arena and be tested to know all of your strengths. So, don’t be afraid of making mistakes as a first time supervisor. Face fears. Practice perseverance. Reinforce resilience.

Secret Weapon #6: Inspire and Motivate Your People

Superheroes are inspiring because they are role models of integrity, trust, perseverance, resilience, and justice. They are incorruptible but they are not infallible. Their vulnerability coupled with the ability to overcome it, also serves to inspire us. Motivation is the combination of desire, values, and beliefs that drives you to take action. These three motivating factors are at the root of why people behave the way they do. Because you ultimately control your values, beliefs, and desires, you can influence your motivations. This means, if you consider something important and assign value to it, you are more likely to do the work it takes to attain the goal. When motivation originates from an internal source and is combined with a realistic goal and circumstance, the odds of a good outcome are greatly increased.

Superheroes have a universal appeal because they inspire us to greater heights. We need heroes – super and otherwise – because they are merely a reflection of our deeply human desire for a better self.

Up, up and away!

©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

I really appreciate that you are reading my post. If you found it helpful, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to read exclusive content on my BLOG.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.

I also love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.



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Top 10 Tips To 10x Your Productivity And Take Back Your Creativity

3 Things Babies Can Teach Us About Employee Engagement

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