The Case for Managerial Leadership in 2021

By Julian Chapman

Words hold power.

They are also analogies of thought and, too often, words can set us off or be ascribed special meaning. Take the words “management” and “leadership.” These two are often seen as mutually exclusive.

Management has a pejorative description; it conjures up boring bureaucrats with tight ties who pour over spreadsheets and have little humour. Leaders, on the other hand, are seen as heroes – those who step out and save old ladies from being crushed by buses, or those who inspire millions with their daring charisma. I am sure, as you read this, you are falling into one camp or the other on the subject. The intent here is to demonstrate that, despite what myriad business books say, leadership is not all there is, and management is not a bad thing.

In the complexity of today’s society, we need them both. We need to be able to embrace and utilize both for the betterment of our organizations and our world. As words are important, let me share my own definitions of each of the terms. Management is the act of administering an organization to make it efficient, effective, and trust enhancing. Its orientation is to task delivery or output. Leadership, I define as the act of influencing, motivating, and enabling others to the achievement of tasks. Its orientation is toward people. Together, these become “managerial leadership,” which I define as the achievement of goals whilst having a positive impact on others. This new term is bringing the two together and ensuring that they are both in play equally, rather than dividing them. To be successful you need to focus on the task and the people. You need to balance being a taskmaster and a cruise director. If you focus only on management, you will drive people into the ground. If you are too pleasing and focussing on everyone being excited or comfortable, you may not achieve the goal. So, balance the two and manage the tension between them.

Now for a lesson of experience. When we start our careers, we choose a profession – say, perhaps, the actuarial sciences. Our early career is then set in motion on a path to being a technocrat and our successes come at the hands of being a good actuary and fulfilling the tasks of that role. But, as time goes on, and we are more successful, we find we are limited to our technical skills in actuarial science and so, if we want to grow and be given more responsibility, we need to take on a managerial leadership role. In that managerial leadership role, we have to deliver results through others, yet we have the anchor of our actuarial skills: we can always fall back on them. So, often what this looks like, is, when we don’t get success out of others (the leadership side), we turn to being task masters and driving task delivery (the management side). When this, too, fails, we drop into, “oh hell! I’ll just do it myself”; that anchor of actuarial skills comes into play, we revert, and we get the job done personally. No, this isn’t just the case for actuaries – it is the same model throughout industry and business regardless of sector. Its cause is the lack of a professional managerial leadership class. We see ourselves as the technocrat and not as what we are truly being paid to be – someone who gets the results through others whilst having a positive impact on them.

To be successful you need to focus on the task and the people. You need to balance being a taskmaster and a cruise director.

So, how to solve for this? It requires several things in place. First, is in our own psyche, we must realize we can no longer lean on those basic technical skills that got us here. We need a new mindset and that is, above all else, “when I am in a managerial role, that is my work.” To do that, we need a new skillset. We need to realize that we need to learn new things and, most importantly, those are managerial leadership skills. Both management and leadership skills can be learned, but we have to have the discipline to see them as our role and the discipline to continuously improve ourselves. This shift in mindset and skills is not easy. Managerial leadership is a lifelong learning – there is no one technical training course to take to achieve that designation. You continually build it up and, if you happen to be a perfectionist, beware! – you will make mistakes. In my career as both a practitioner and teacher of managerial leadership over 38 years, I have made thousands of mistakes but, in the lens of continuous improvement, I have learned from them along the way.

On top of changing your mindset and skillset, you need to seek help. There is one key role in the organization there to help you. Often, we turn to human resources to help – and help you they can – but the one role you must rely on is your manager. They, too, will struggle with the same challenges, but their job is to help you. That is what managerial leadership is about: your manager is there to help you – not with the technical details, but with the messiness of managerial leadership. Since it is a lifelong learning, they are on the same development path as you. They have even less chance to rely on their technical skills. They are getting further and further from the doing and more and more engaged in the planning and thinking. So, it is important for you to reach out and to rely on one another. When your employees see this, they will become heartened that the management team is a productive, cohesive unit – a managerial leadership team.

Managerial leadership is a lifelong learning – there is no one technical training course to take to achieve that designation.

So, what does it matter what we call it?

It’s because words do hold power. It is time for us to see the value in the work that we do by identifying it properly. It is sometimes challenging, can be frightening, and often does not bring immediate satisfaction, but it is important work. It is about carefully balancing management and leadership. It is also about realizing that, when you have direct reports, your work now is managerial leadership above all else. You need to change your mindset, your skillset, and you need to seek help where you may not have before. Your world has changed, and you need to adapt to be successful.

To learn more about being an engaged manager and enlightened leader, join us at act21, June 15–18 and see how actuaries are leveraging change.

This article reflects the opinion of the author and does not represent an official statement of the CIA.

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