Are You a Manager or a Leader?
Are you a manager, or a leader? Is there a distinction, or are the terms one and the same? Why does it matter?
Employees’ impressions of their administrators can spark or sink both parties’ careers. It’s therefore important to recognize the conspicuous and more nuanced differences and similarities between managers and leaders.
The definitions are far from straightforward, and they’re the subject of much debate. If you’ve categorized yourself as one vs. the other, you’re riding on the impression you have of yourself, which ultimately determines how you lead people.
Any complex comparison reveals a definite overlap between managers and leaders. Though some common ground exists, there are numerous dissimilarities.
Mindset is the primary distinction, business executive and philanthropist Vineet Nayar states in a 2013 Harvard Business Review article, "Three Differences Between Managers and Leaders." The way you tackle administration helps decide whether you manage or lead. Do you focus on yourself (the manager’s focus) or on others (the hallmark of a leader)?
Differences in Purpose
The purpose behind your actions defines your legacy. An old adage applies:
- A manager makes use of people to benefit the organization.
- A leader makes use of the organization to benefit people.
Other views are more specific:
- A manager is driven by an immediate purpose, revolving around self.
- A leader is driven by a purpose higher than self.
- A manager executes a vision by assigning work.
- A leader sets the vision by encouraging ideas.
Nayar prefers the following distinctions:
- A manager counts value by tracking tasks, checking boxes and expecting others to add value.
- A leader creates value by empowering people, making them better and helping to add to the value.
- A manager accomplishes a goal through
- A leader achieves success with
Alan Murray, author of The Wall Street Journal Essential Guide to Management (HarperBusiness, 2010), offers another view:
- Managers plan, organize and maintain.
- Leaders inspire, motivate and develop.
Differences in Focus
Focus—influenced by your qualifications, experience, fears, opinions and priorities— describes areas of concern and attention:
- Managers tend to be more short-term oriented, looking for quicker paybacks.
- Leaders tend to have a longer-range outlook, looking for future paybacks.
- Managers make use of others’ skills.
- Leaders want to develop others’ skills.
- Managers focus on systems and procedures.
- Leaders focus on people and possibilities.
- Managers are keyed into efficiency.
- Leaders are keyed into unity.
Differences in Authority
Authority—how you oversee, direct and assess completion of staff activities— radically affects your direct reports:
- Managers reserve authority for themselves. Subordinates submit by requirement.
- Leaders push authority down to the farthest possible level. Followers join in by choice.
- Managers assure compliance by following an authority map.
- Leaders develop trust by charting the authority map.
- Managers enforce the pace.
- Leaders set the pace.
Nayar offers an interesting observation:
- Managers create circles of power, where people are required to comply politically.
- Leaders create circles of influence, where people desire to follow.
Differences in Behavior
Everyone notices your behavior, and it takes only a few actions to reveal your character traits and what kind of support they’ll receive:
- Managers tend to operate under a separate set of rules, with little concern for people’s impressions.
- Leaders exemplify a noble set of rules that others attempt to emulate.
- Managers prioritize their personal needs.
- Leaders prioritize other’ needs.
- Managers seek notoriety for themselves.
- Leaders seek notoriety for their people.
- Managers’ notoriety is based on their technical attributes.
- Leaders’ notoriety is based on their interpersonal attributes.
The Proper Blend
Is one administrative model superior to the other? Should you adopt a purely managerial or leadership model?
Murray asserts that the two models go hand in hand, so trying to separate them is detrimental. You must blend the two approaches to create an optimal administrative strategy. One approach, on its own, is insufficient for success.
Today’s world of commerce presents greater pressures and shorter deadlines than ever before. There’s little, if any, slack for workers to step back and catch their breath. Such conditions require more of the manager model, with an administrator who takes the reins and keeps everyone on track.
Conversely, Murray points out, we face a new economy, where workers have developed perspectives that differ greatly from those of previous generations. Managers must therefore have the right leadership skills and know how to develop people.
A widely accepted management framework, based on Henri Fayol's early 20th-century model, calls for four administrative functions:
Planning has short- and long-term aspects. Short-term planning accounts for the process, manpower and timing needed to meet organizational objectives (what effective managers do). Long-term planning accounts for the vision and strategy needed to grow the company and enhance its purpose (what successful leaders do).
Organizing utilizes management skills to plan projects, provide resources and initiate processes.
Leading comprises four additional building blocks:
Each component is driven by a leader’s interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence.
Applying the Blend
Administrators who cling to a sole managerial or leadership approach handicap their organizations.
If you’re too management oriented, you’ll have difficulty building trust. People will see that your priority is to get work done, not to benefit them. Your personal goals will seem to override anyone else’s. You’ll be regarded as uncaring or disinterested—unworthy of being followed.
If you’re too leadership oriented, you won’t be able to maintain order. Tasks will be performed incorrectly or late, and productivity will plummet. Crises will overtake your people, who lack guidance on immediate issues. Your boss will assume you’re unable to handle the job, and you’ll lose your staff’s respect.
Administrators who work toward achieving both managerial and leadership capabilities excel in the workplace. Their employees are engaged and motivated. In this ideal workplace, nothing can stop the team from achieving success.
Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist & Executive Coach
Trusted Leadership Advisor
Emotional Intelligence and Mindful Leadership Expert
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