Leaders and Managers

There is a lot of information on the contrast between leaders and managers. Typically we see a side by side comparison with items such as:

“Managers do things right” while

“Leaders do the right things.”

I like to take a different slant on describing the differences because I believe a pure manager comes to work with an entirely different mindset from a pure leader. Of course, there really is no such thing as a pure manager or leader, it is always some kind of a combination of the two concepts. Here is how I describe the differences.

The Manager

The manager wants everything to go smoothly. He or she wants every process to run the way it should and get the maximum productivity. There should be no waste. The manager wants everyone to follow all the rules and be there every day motivated to do good work. In essence, the manager wants to stabilize things and clone everything to be exactly right. The manager is all about doing things right, and is most closely associated with the mission of the organization (what they are trying to accomplish). The manager works with the process, the equipment, the schedule, and the people in terms of what they should be doing. Managers are now oriented.

The Leader

The leader is often a destabilizing force. He or she is most interested in where the organization is going rather than just optimizing today’s processes. That may mean making people unhappy for some time in order for the greater good. If people are too complacent and do not see the dangers, the leader is there to create a burning platform. Leaders are sometimes very unpopular. The idea is to do the right things, which may mean some pretty difficult decisions. The leader is all about the vision of the organization (where they are trying to go). The leader works with the balance sheet, the strategic plan, the product line, and the people in terms of what they can become. Leaders are future oriented.

The Leader/Manager

This person is able to combine the best of both worlds and act in both roles. All of us act as leaders and managers at times, but each of us favors one mode or the other. A good balance between the two extremes is the best place to be. In general, the world has far more competent managers than competent leaders, so if you have leadership tendencies, that is a good thing to have.

Really great leaders do not mind being average managers. They recognize their weakness and surround themselves with outstanding managers to handle the details.

One Response to Leaders and Managers

  1. Jamie Ross says:

    Interesting post Robert – I really like the concept and the way you’ve explained it. We do usually associate leading with taking us somewhere (the future), and management as managing things as they are (the present).

    As you say, the key is finding the middle ground!

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