Do You Want to Be a Manager or a Leader?


Dave Salisbury explains how leaders instil trust in those following them, while managers create dependence.

“Do I want to be a manager or a leader?” Regardless of actual title, a choice is needed, individually made, and personal to every person. When this choice is made, the following makes more sense. What type of leader or manager do you want to be and how do you measure your impact? Let me offer some additional questions providing a measurement for consideration. These questions are termed “Power Block” questions:

  1. If you have an idea, do you trust your direct leader to represent your idea?
  2. Do you know who your boss reports to and do you trust them to represent you?
  3. Do you feel you are entrusted with freedom and agency to handle internal or external customer concerns?
  4. As leaders or managers, do we treat and communicate with you the way we train you to treat and communicate with customers?

Customer relations and communications remain difficult aspects to action

These four simple questions qualify and sharpen, if allowed, the call centre environment and culture. Regardless of whether you choose to be a manager or a leader, the focus upon customer relations and communications remains a difficult aspect to daily action. An interesting piece of research reflects why business communication is important. Dandira (2012) reports organisational communication as the source for disenfranchising employees, stifling innovation sharing, and generating a vacuum where organisational cancer begins to metastasise.

Risk tends to increase from a lack of attention

The questions posed above cut directly to the heart of communication issues, which reflect trust, agency, employee empowerment, and a vulnerability of the organisation that risk control measures are not addressing. Risk management or risk control remains a popular myth.

Yes, planning for risks has an appropriate mitigating impact, but risk is never managed or controlled. Risks remain the variables in a plan of action, something to plan for, mitigate the effects of, and sometimes avoid through proper planning and choices but never managed or controlled. When organisational controllers believe they can manage risk, risk tends to increase from a lack of attention because it is human nature to believe that ability trumps the natural consequences of choices made.


Let us elaborate using an actual scenario. During a merger of call centres for two major companies, styles of leadership and corporate cultures clashed. While the risks of employee churn were considered, the reality of the employee churn far exceeded the anticipated risks.

Since employee churn had been discussed and a plan decided upon, many of the leaders of the merger simply pushed employee churn and the underlying problems of churn out of their collective thinking. By the time resource investment occurred to address the churning of employees, the problem had grown so out of proportion that urgent resources taxed already limited abilities and nearly collapsed the merger along with both organisations.

The distrust among merged employees in the new organisation stemmed from poor organisational communication, bad marketing of internal communications, and poor risk planning, leading to poor tactical implementation of the merger strategy.

Employee buy-in remains critical to growth strategies

While the “Power-Block” questions above could have helped alert the organisational leaders during the merger, the power of the questions would have become more important had they been asked and answered before the merger began and after the merger concluded to gauge employee impact and employee understanding, along with genetic knowledge in the replaced employees. Employee buy-in remains critical to growth strategies, risk planning, and operational excellence.

Call centre employees quickly take on a “herd mentality”

Employees, especially in call centres, quickly take on a “herd mentality” when faced with change. Avoiding or mitigating herd mentality requires strong characters in positions of trust, who are fully authorised to make moment-to-moment decisions, delegate responsibility, and demand accountability.

Consider the mental image of a herd of bison. The individual bison is nervous. Suddenly, a small almost insignificant event occurs, making the individual bison move from nervous and not acting into “fight or flight” panic.


Individually, the herd chooses to flee with no order and no plan, and the leaders of the herd do not realise their influence on the entire herd.

How is the herd turned and kept safe? Opposing counteractions override the panic, and personal safety is individually onboarded, which causes the individuals in the herd to act instead of reacting to the external stimuli. The individual bison onboard external influence and make buy-in decisions for personal reasons.

This scenario is how “micro-networks” are born. Individuals in the herd take power and convince a small group of people to “settle down”. The leader of the smaller network then begins to establish authority and order from the chaos of change, creating and forcing the micro-network into agreeing and supporting the leader in an attempt not to be scared into herd mentality again.

Each individual employee is charged with the power to change direction

The invested call centre leader uses the information in the “Power Block” questions to create the external stimuli to override the herd mentality and correct the call centre. Each individual employee is charged with the power to act and change direction, not in a micro-network but as a complete body, honing and focusing the efforts of all into the actions of one.

Engdahl and Lidskog (2012) explore the connection between risks, organisational communication, and trust in business leaders.

In exploring the connection, several interesting conclusions leap out for application:

  • Emotional investment from both leaders/managers and the individual employee will be the deciding factor when trust remains absent or experience is limited.
  • Each individual will make a cognitive and conscious decision to buy in or not. In making the decision, emotional connections outweigh logic in many instances. This requirement for emotional investment provides tools to improve buy-in or destroy buy-in, but the individual will still make the choice, and only through understanding the consequences will the leader/manager become aware of the choice made.
  • Risks and risk analysis of trust investment and emotional connection remain crucial to organisational tactical success versus strategic planning. Repeatedly, successful strategic planning rests in tactical action in communicating and making emotional connections with employees. Training and educating all employees in risk and organisational trust provides avenues to further explore and meet the employees as equals. Returning to the “Power Block” questions, numbers 2 and 4 reflect this most important aspect.

Concluding with the research by Shockley-Zalabak and Morreale (2011), affirmation and support for building high-trust businesses reflect the separation between the high-performance business organisation and the low-performance organisation.

Employees must be trained and included in the strategic and tactical risk planning to feel the emotional connection and onboard an impetus to trust the business hierarchy. Yet, while both leaders and managers play an influential role, the manager can only inspire so much before leadership must take over.

This lack of influence is embedded in the separation of power origination in managers versus leadership.

Leaders are invested with power by active choices in those selecting and following. Managerial power is all contained in the trust of the leader making a manager. Hence, the manager remains chained to strictly defined limits that the leader does not operate under.

A leader is a teacher and a teacher leads

A leader instils trust in those following the leader through training. A leader is a teacher and a teacher leads. A manager, even when required to train as a daily role, will continue to restrict full knowledge transfer as a safety valve and competition-killing mechanism. By restricting knowledge transfer, the manager creates dependence and a false sense of security in their position.

Dave Salisbury

Dave Salisbury

The evidence remains clear: the “Power Block” questions offered provide measurement statistics to qualify and quantify where operational bottlenecks reside and provide insight into solutions. Those employees directly affected by negative experiences and distrust can be interviewed individually to ascertain potential solutions. When employees are engaged in the process, even when initial data is supremely negative, paths forward come from the best source, engaged impacted employees.

With thanks to Dave Salisbury, Operations and Customer Relations Specialist


Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: 10.1108/17515631211246267
Engdahl, E., & Lidskog, R. (2014). Risk, communication and trust: Towards an emotional understanding of trust. Public Understanding of Science, 23(6), 703-717. doi:10.1177/0963662512460953
Shockley-Zalabak, P. S., & Morreale, S. P. (2011). Building high-trust organizations. Leader To Leader, 2011(60), 39-45. doi:10.1002/ltl.467

Author: Dave Salisbury
Reviewed by: Jonty Pearce

Published On: 11th Nov 2015 - Last modified: 16th May 2024
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy, , ,

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