Are you a leader or a manager?

Does it matter whether you lead or manage your roofing company?

In any organization, getting positive results is imperative. Yet even if you're successful, do you ever have the feeling things aren't quite the way they should be? For example, is safety a nagging issue? Are margins not quite right? Or worse, are employees bad-mouthing, stealing from or leaving your company?

The confusion

How do you know when to lead versus manage, and does it matter? These are good questions and not as easy to answer as you might think. Try Googling the terms; it doesn't take many clicks to see some form of the word "manage" in definitions or explanations of leading and some form of the word "lead" in definitions or explanations of managing. Academic literature supports the desire to clearly define these terms, provides examples of them and shows how extremely close these two concepts are; however, these explanations often can be confusing, and a meaningful distinction that is practical in everyday situations can be elusive.

When I teach about leading and managing, I see this confusion play out in real time. I ask students to complete a number of exercises that illustrate how muddled these words are. For example, as an introductory exercise, I ask each student to interview one classmate using a set of predetermined questions. The interviewers then use the answers to introduce the classmate to the class. One question provided to interviewers is: "As a manager, what is most frustrating about your role?" Another is: "What would you like to learn today?"

Interestingly, more than 80 percent of the answers to both questions are leadership-related, not management-related. I have used this exercise with foremen, superintendents, Future Executives Institute students and roofing company owners, and the answers are basically the same.

They answer: "getting buy-in," "getting everyone on the same page," "not babysitting," "listening better," "communicating more effectively," etc. If you recall, the question was asking for a description of their frustrations with managing, not leading, yet their answers overwhelmingly speak to leadership issues.

I also group students and ask them to prioritize their top five duties. I am happy to report safety almost always is listed in the No. 1 or 2 spot. However, what is more interesting is 90 percent of the answers relate to managing activities rather than leading activities. In other words, what they see as their jobs is getting work done (managing), yet what is most frustrating (based on the responses to the previous exercise) are the people working for them (leading).

Another exercise is to rank nine success factors for managers and leaders. Consistently, they rank managing factors (accountability, safety, quality control and planning) over leading factors (leading by example, communicating, coaching and positive behavior) as being more important. The thinking is: If you're not getting the job done, you're not in business; and of course, this is true—but is it effective long term?

One final activity is the completion of a personality test called the DiSC® profile. After completing the profile, a personality preference is indicated: Dominance (D), Influence (i), Steadiness (S) or Conscientiousness (C). A D's motto is: "Do it my way." An i's motto is: "Let's talk about it." An S's motto is: "It's about the team." And a C's motto is: "Do it right the first time."

I have been tracking the results throughout the years, and there's an uncanny similarity between every class I teach: No matter the supervisors' levels (foremen to owner), 80 percent of the classes are D's and C's (managers) and 20 percent are i's and S's (leaders).

This doesn't mean a D can't lead or vice versa. It indicates a personality type that gravitates toward getting things done versus depending on the people who do it. However, nothing should keep someone from learning to appreciate how to effectively interact with people and adopt those communication skills necessary to influence others, for example.

From these exercises, it's apparent there is a bias toward managing in a typical roofing contractor's business. There also appears to be a lack of understanding of what leading and managing mean. Finally, there's a largely unidentified need of how to employ some basic leadership skills.

The terms defined

I can recall as a youngster reveling in my good fortune after having found a nickel on the ground. I remember closely inspecting it and wondering where the heads side stopped and the tails started. A parallel thought of leading and managing seems to fit nicely here. Both are distinct, yet it is quite difficult to determine where one stops and the other starts.

When a person is responsible for other employees, he or she is a manager and a leader. I often find students trying to understand how they are both, citing, in fact, that their titles include the word "manager." Many believe the company's chief officer is the leader and all other employees are followers. I agree a CEO leads the entire organization and theoretically everyone else follows, but this doesn't mean others don't have equally important leadership roles.

Leading boils down to an understanding of why and how to affect caring about doing a job well and wanting to show up on time, for example. So whenever a situation arises where you or an employee shows a lack of care or concern, leadership is likely at the heart of the issue, and it's a leadership skill that needs to be employed to help solve the issue.

Managing relies on metrics. In this context, anything that can be measured empirically can be managed. For example, whenever you can measure the outcome, you use management skills to affect the desired outcome.

An example

Following is a practical example that often arises in foreman classes. A foreman will say he has trained his workers in fall protection, the company has provided all the necessary gear, and the workers have been shown how to wear and install the appropriate devices; however, the minute his back is turned, they just seem to "forget" about it. And when confronted, an errant employee will respond with disdain or frustration that he knows what to do and will do it next time to which the foreman might say: "These guys just don't care if they fall!"

The issue here is not a lack of management. The workers have been trained (they say they know what to do); the workers have all the necessary equipment; and they all have been shown how to use the equipment. I have often heard foremen say in situations like this they hate telling the office that safety procedures aren't being followed because the next thing they will have to do is fill out a checklist (managed from the office) to ensure everyone is complying. (Beware of the checklist; it has its place but is often a source of torture and noninformation and risks overmanaging.) And in fact, what the checklist often will communicate in this context is a lack of trust, the need to control and, more often than not, disdain for the actual thing you're trying to accomplish.

What's needed here is leadership. A foreman needs to determine how he or she can connect personally with workers so tying off isn't perceived as being solely for the worker's protection (oddly enough many workers report they don't need it) but rather for a greater cause (for example, a worker's family, the organization, the owner, the team). Leaders who take the time to understand the personalities of whom they're talking to and connect personally with them will start seeing compliance success.

Find your story

Leaders understand that people connect to people through their stories. Since the dawn of man, we have all kinds of evidence that storytelling was key to not only survival but also to history. Cave walls are full of drawings telling of disaster (and how to avoid it) and love (those who have gone before and deities who care for them). It's what we humans do.

But I have found it is difficult for roofing company leaders to articulate their stories. I have interviewed hundreds of roofing company executives during the years, asking them about what things they are most passionate. The purpose of this exercise is to see whether I can help them find their stories. I am always humbled by how truly difficult it is for them to do.

And considering the prevalence of manager-type personalities in the roofing industry, this makes sense. The DiSC exercise reveals an important dynamic going on in a typical roofing contractor's organization. Roofing work fits into the service sector of business. Service is all about doing things for a customer. It makes sense that those who would succeed are those who get the job done and who want to do so perfectly. And those who are given to having fun or creating a team-like atmosphere would be initially perceived as slacking off, for example.

This is not something unique to our industry; it is cultural. Workers in the U.S. want to get to work, get the job done, accomplish a goal, make money and move on. And there's nothing wrong with any of those things, but when that is done at the expense of connecting with each other, we lose that part of ourselves that makes what we do, whatever we do, have meaning. Leaders make these connections. Without it, frustrations are a logical outcome.

The fact many roofing companies are multigenerational clearly points to doing things well. Roofing company owners know how to manage to get results and are outstanding managers. So much so, they often are unintentionally overmanaging. The result is staff members who feel a lack of empowerment, don't seem to care, are frustrated with the same old problems or see no path to the future.

It is like the nickel analogy. Imagine the coin lying flat with the tails side up representing managing. Moving the coin (the organization) forward can be done by sliding it, but it takes a lot more resources to do so and handling any bumps along the way becomes even more challenging.

Yet when an organization is evenly adept at leading and managing, it's like the coin being equally supported, standing on its edge. As such, moving ahead is much easier as it can roll forward handling bumps in the road with ease. So it is not that overmanaging can't work, but in the long run it is ineffective and a poor use of valuable (and scarce) human resources. Managing and leading are equally important and appreciating that leading might be the answer gives lift to the other side of the coin and gives it a chance to roll.

Vision and connections

When a leader invests the time to share why tying off, for example, is important to him or her, a connection may be made. I can hear the foreman, the superintendents and, yes, the owners now: "But you don't know these guys!" And I'll reply: "Weren't you one of them?" And then there is a pause.

Roofing work is difficult and often dirty. It also is rewarding, incredibly important and, I think, beautiful. How often do you find yourself looking up and admiring the incredible pieces of architecture that are, by the way, also protecting us? And for those of us lucky enough to be a part of the roofing industry, it's wonderful being able to recall the stories of the incredible people who made—and make—it happen.

In classes where I teach about strategic planning, I connect leadership to vision and explain why it is so important to have one. A company's vision is an external statement that concisely explains who you are as a company, embodying the heart and soul of why you are committed and passionate about what you do and who you want to be. It is short, to the point and full of powerful words—your words.

It is a leadership statement. As you find and articulate your company's stories, they shape the basis of your unique vision statement. When a vision is crafted from your stories, it is powerful, memorable and impactful.

From the hundreds of roofing executives to the thousands of foremen I've worked with, more often than not the frustrating situation will likely come down to yourself or those around you showing a lack of care or concern. If so, consider ways to understand how you might employ leadership skills.

Leadership is about having a vision, knowing who you and your team members are, telling your stories and making connections. Managing is about getting the task at hand done. Both rely on an understanding that you can't do it alone. Not giving better attention to the leadership factors that address who is doing the job leads to poor morale, job dissatisfaction and attention problems, which lead right back to issues with the metrics: efficiency, turnover, profitability, etc.

Make it work

Roofing is challenging, dangerous and important work. It needs people who understand that the difference between leading and managing matters. If you feel there is something missing in your organization, rather than creating another checklist, take a moment and ask yourself whether it is an issue of someone caring about the task at hand, and if it is, think about why you care about the situation and with whom you will be sharing that story. You'll make a connection and see the coin roll.

Thomas R. Shanahan, CAE, is NRCA's vice president of enterprise risk management.



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