Art And Culture

Are you a performance manager or a performance leader? (And how to tell the difference)

Businessman and Businesswoman look at the city

Most executives, owners and high-level managers are familiar with the basics of performance management.  This term generally refers to keeping track of employees’ performance by encouraging more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff via formal and informal processes and evaluations. 

Performance management is generally where we see organizational carrots (bonuses and other incentives) and sticks (disciplinary measures).  It is generally considered an integral part of workplace cultures, which drives employee behavior and therefore organizational results.

I’ve worked with countless organizations on managing employee performance in my two and half decades of being an employment lawyer, human resources consultant, and now as a high performance life and business coach.  I believe it is an important part of the life cycle of employees.  But it is not enough, especially in today’s evolving paradigm of what it means to create and maintain an impactful workplace culture.

The pandemic forced a shift for virtually every individual around the globe.  For many of us, it was like someone pushed a big pause button in the sky.  We had to approach just about everything in our lives differently: work, parenting, eating, and socializing, to name just a few.  In this moment of pause (which felt like a decade), many of us reflected on what we wanted and why we wanted it.  Would we keep a slower pace?  Was the hustle and grind of work really worth it?  Who are the people in which we truly want to invest our time and energy?  Our collective and individual answers to these questions will inform how (and even whether) we show up in the organizations for which we work.

This context provides a great opportunity for owners, executives and managers to pause and assess the impact they can have on organizational culture.  Opportunities abound for employees, and entrepreneurship (and solopreneurship in particular) is at an all time high.  Many are opting out of the traditional walls of the work environment to forge their own path, informed at least in part by their pandemic inquiries and reflections.

The question every leader and would-be leader should ask is: are you a leader or are you a manager?  Consider that leadership is not the same as management.  Management typically involves exerting control over others to get them to behave in line with specified metrics.  Think carrots and sticks.

Leadership, on the other hand, refers to one’s ability to influence, enable and inspire others to act in ways that contribute to both individual and organizational growth.  Organizations and the people in them thrive and flourish under good leadership.  Thus, leaders are likely to attract and retain excellent performers.  When “leaders” simply manage, there is significantly lower employee engagement, which inevitably and negatively impacts organizational culture (and the bottom line) in countless ways.

So how do you know if you’re leading or managing when it comes to employee performance?  A self-assessment is a great place to start.

True leaders engage in the following five behaviors: 

  1. Ask for input from all stakeholders, including employees of all levels;
  2. Listen to their answers and demonstrate that they care about employee perspectives, whether or not they agree with them;
  3. Create a compelling vision for the organizational goals, a clear “why”;
  4. Articulate the vision to all stakeholders as a way to obtain agreement and commitment;
  5. Act in alignment with the vision, by meaning what they say and saying what they mean.

Ask yourself, do you do these things on a regular and consistent basis?

Leaders understand that hypocrisy can be the death of workplace culture.  They know too that paying mere lip service to a vision and the values behind it is not enough to generate and maintain employee engagement.

For those who find themselves in, or aspiring towards, a leadership role within an organization, initiating a culture audit can be a great way to go beyond self-inquiry to assess the overall perception of leadership skills and strengths.  Once a more objective baseline measurement is obtained, leadership coaching can be an absolutely invaluable tool to elevating all aspects of a workplace culture.  Look for a certified coach with organizational experience and his or her own vision of empowering others to be leaders in their own lives.


Written by Sindy Warren.

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Sindy Warren
Sindy Warren is a high performance and mindset coach and the founder of Blue Tree Coaching. She’s also a Stanford Law School grad with over 20 years legal and HR consulting experience. In addition, she’s a yoga and meditation teacher and a published author. When she’s not working, she can be found hanging out with family and friends, cooking something healthy, working out or on her yoga mat, or otherwise living her best life in Shaker Heights, Ohio or Hilton Head, South Carolina.


Sindy Warren is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn.