Navigating the Fine Line Between Managing and Leading

Cover photo of woman smiling candidly

The following article was originally published in Cannabis Retailer, May/June 2023. See it online at:

by Emily Lord

In today’s retail environment, where job openings are abundant and applicants are sparse, it’s more important than ever for managers to create a thriving employee experience. This includes fostering engagement, championing rewarding work, and ensuring the business is flourishing. So, what are some of the key skills that leaders need to possess to accomplish these goals and manage in a regulated environment?

When to Manage Versus When to Lead

In highly regulated workplaces, it’s crucial for managers to know when to manage—to focus on educating their staff, following the rules, and getting the work done. But it’s also important to be a leader, to know when to be inspirational, adaptable, motivating change, and inspiring the team to grow, innovate, and have fun.

The key to knowing when to manage versus lead is asking yourself: Is this a situation that requires me to inform or tell my team how to accomplish a task or respond to a challenging situation? Is it a question of compliance or an issue of safety? In these cases, it’s important to manage. However, if it’s a time where you can pause and coach the situation, guide your team member to an answer or a solution, then this is your moment to flex your leadership muscles.

Strong managers possess similar characteristics regardless of whether they’re taking a management or leadership approach. They ensure that their practices are fair and consistent, they guide to clear policies, and they create an environment where people are respected and heard, and contributions and input are appreciated. When there’s a good grasp of what needs to be managed, opportunities open up for leading the team. This is when leaders share their knowledge, make space for their team members to grow, and provide opportunities for development. The foundational management work creates space for leadership activities that create thriving workspaces and encourage employees to stay.

Effective Leaders Adapt Quickly

Adaptable leadership involves the ability to shift between managing and leading, and leaders must be able to adjust to changing staffing needs, operational strategies, business priorities, and regulatory requirements. It is crucial for leaders not only to adjust personally but also to guide their teams through change. Leaders must keep their employees informed of these changes and provide training for compliance. They also recognize that change can be challenging and explore ways to support their team’s adaptability in a constantly evolving workplace.

Recognize that change can be challenging…

Talented Leaders Are Skillful Communicators

In an environment with many regulations and policies to follow, clear communication is critical. Leaders must convey policies and procedures in a way that’s easy to understand and follow. They should establish clear communication channels that ensure all employees receive consistent information. Effective leaders adjust their communication style, approach, and methods to meet their team members where they are, and they ask their team how they would like to receive information. This could include regular huddles, emails, and announcements. Effective communication is transparent and open wherever possible. Strong leaders appreciate that communication goes both ways and are ready to listen to their employees’ feedback and concerns and provide timely input to help employees improve their performance.

Good Leaders Value the Strength of a Team

Strong leaders understand the importance of building a cohesive and effective group by creating a supportive environment where employees feel valued and respected. They motivate their employees to work towards a common goal and celebrate their successes. Strong leaders appreciate that teams which are cohesive, create workplaces where people enjoy coming to work every day.

Excellent Leaders Enjoy Solving Problems Quickly

Leaders must be able to identify and solve problems efficiently and effectively to prevent them from escalating and ensure problems aren’t repeated. They must be able to analyze the root cause of a problem and develop a plan to prevent it from happening again in the future. Leaders must encourage their employees to report problems and concerns and provide them with the tools and resources to address them. They should also create a culture that values innovation and encourages employees to find creative solutions to problems. Leaders recognize individuals who not only raise concerns but also share recommendations.

Engaging Leaders Lead by Example

Engaged leaders follow the rules, they set the tone, and they inspire their team to be the best they can be. They understand that their actions speak louder than words, and they make a conscious effort to model the behaviour they expect from others. When leading by example, they create a culture of excellence where team members feel motivated to give everything they have and strive for success. Additionally, they build trust and credibility with their team. Trust and credibility are critical for building strong working relationships, and ultimately, for achieving organizational goals.

In today’s retail environment, strong managers who know when to manage and when to lead are crucial to creating a thriving employee experience. By being adaptable, skillful communicators, valuing teamwork, problem-solving quickly, and leading by example, leaders can help their teams feel engaged and motivated to innovate and grow. The foundational management work in place creates the space for leadership activities that create engaging workspaces and encourage employees to stay. With these skills, managers can help their teams succeed in a regulated environment, leading to a flourishing business and rewarding work for all.

Create a culture that values innovation…

Oh, and outstanding managers do not forget to have fun! Who doesn’t want to come to work everyday to a place that makes you laugh, where you feel connected to a collective purpose, and where you leave feeling like you are ‘with your people’?

Emily Lord is a Senior HR Consultant with HR West.

Emily Lord