Leaders: Do You Want Compliance or Engagement?

Compliance or Engagement?

To achieve the highest levels of success within an industry today, organizations should be focused on creating training programs that develop better leaders, not better managers.

Management vs. Leadership

Often times the terms leadership and management are used interchangeably yet these two words could not be more opposite in the outcomes they produce within an organization.

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines the verb lead asto guide on a way especially by going in advance,” while it defines manage as, “to make and keep compliant.”

Unlike managing, which requires a title to influence compliance, leading simply requires that an individual demonstrate a set of behaviors that inspires others to want to follow. In contrast managing can gain compliance whether or not the individual wants to do what is requested.

For an organization to meet its full potential in today’s environment, focusing on developing leadership behaviors, not management behaviors, may hold the key to that realization.

[slideshare id=368112&doc=management-vs-leadership-on-linkedin-1208906292726533-8]

Effective Leadership Preparation

There is substantial research that demonstrates the positive impact leadership behaviors have on an organization’s culture and bottom line. Research from one consulting group suggested this:

When facing changes in the business environment, 86% of companies with strategic leadership development programmes are able to respond rapidly compared with just 52% of companies with less mature leadership programmes.”

Highly developed leaders often show behaviors that engage and motivate those around them to want to say “yes” to what is being asked of them. This request might involve physical action or to support a vision or a direction that the leader would like their employees to embrace.

Leadership Lesson Learned

Management vs. LeadershipI once worked with an executive who unknowingly illustrated the difference between leading and managing with his own staff.

He was a hard-driving individual, who was often critical of the work of those that reported to him regardless of the high quality.

As well, he was not effective at setting clear and consistent guidelines for his team, rarely recognized his people for their effort, and was often incongruent between his own behaviors and what he expected of his staff.

His rationale for his behavior was that if he provided praise or too much direction, it would make his people “weak.” When questioned on developing behaviors that might engage his people, he responded by saying he got the results he needed with his current behavior so why change.

Getting Even Better Results

I could not disagree that he got results with his current behavior because his team performed well. What I did know from my many sessions with his direct reports was that he was not getting the best results he could from his group because of his behaviors.

While they complied with every request he made, they did not feel engaged or motivated to advocate for change in areas they felt the company would benefit.

By definition, this executive was very skilled at “managing” his people, which was evident in their high level of compliance. Although the executive’s employees delivered results, a lack of leadership behaviors stifled the team from delivering the best results.

Focusing On What Matters

Over the next two years, several of his employees left the organization causing a huge talent vacuum as well as a morale issue. Rather than focusing on behaviors that created compliance, this executive should have focused on behaviors in which his employees felt engaged, empowered and motivated to give more.

Had this executive demonstrated behaviors that exhibited more respect for his employees’ ideas, encouraged them to take risks, as well as praised them for their contributions, he would have experienced a far greater return on his investment than gaining compliance provided.

Compliance or Engagement, Not Both

In today’s hyper-competitive business climate, the behaviors of those in positions of authority will often create either compliance or engagement, but not both.

Rather than focusing on developing management behaviors, which gain compliance, organizations would be best suited to focus on the development of leadership behaviors that create an engaged, empowered and motivated work environment.


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Patrick Veroneau, MS Organizational Leadership

Patrick Veroneau, MS is CEO of Emery Leadership Group
He inspires Others to Develop Effective Leadership Behaviors
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Image Sources: media02.hongkiat.com, slideshare.com, leadershipdevelopmentworkshops.com



L2L Contributing Author


  1. Jim Trunick on June 16, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Thanks Patrick, I simply say “Hard on Issues, Soft on People” We need high standards, policy and no wobble on ethics. Those need reinforcement, expectations and clear communication. We somehow think the same thing applies to people and it does not. You can control people for compliance or grow people for engagement. We just cannot control our way to growth !

  2. Scott J. Simmerman (@scottsimmerman) on June 17, 2014 at 11:47 am

    Not much good in trying to simply generate Compliance behavior. And those parameters tend to border right up on the factors known to generate sabotage; it is a fine line between them.

    Peter Drucker eloquently said, MANAGEMENT – Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.

    And that is pretty close to the truth in so many situations.

    I always am reminded that BOSS spelled backwards is self-explanatory and that “Nobody ever washes a rental car.”

    Do I take a pretty light view of engaging and leading people? You betcha. We over-manage greatly in so many situations yet we provide really awful performance feedback ala Tom Gilbert’s approach to performance management.

    SOME people actually like being rigidly constrained, since it often represents a very safe environment. But you will find few exemplary performers operating within boundaries.

    We need expectations and feedback and organizational driving forces to help shape behavior. My view is that a little deviance is generally a lot helpful in all things.