MANAGER OR LEADER?
Todd Dewett | July 31, 2018
[This is a short excerpt from my book The Little Black Book of Leadership, revised edition out this fall. Classic question… my take is below. What do you think?]
For many years, people have marveled at the difference between managers and leaders. They suggest that managers deal with the present, while leaders deal with the future. I am sure you have heard similar comparisons.
I actually found the list below on a website dedicated to helping United States government officials:
A manager takes care of where you are; a leader takes you to a new place.
A manager deals with complexity; a leader deals with uncertainty.
A manager is concerned with finding the facts; a leader makes decisions.
A manager is concerned with doing things right; a leader is concerned with doing the right things.
A manager’s critical concern is efficiency; a leader focuses on effectiveness.
A manager creates policies; a leader establishes principles.
A manager sees and hears what is going on; a leader hears when there is no sound and sees when there is no light.
A manager finds answers and solutions; a leader formulates the questions and identifies the problems.
A manager looks for similarities between current and previous problems; a leader looks for differences.
(James Colvard. “Managers vs. Leaders,“ http://www.govexec.com/advice-and-comment/viewpoint/2003/07/managers-vs-leaders/14468/, July 1, 2003)
Hopefully, you see the humor and absurdity in these statements. Many great thinkers have made this silly distinction. I believe their goal is to highlight the more idealized aspects of this thing we all love called leadership. That does not change the fact that managers and leaders are the same thing.
In an effort to make a point we have idealized the more exciting and inspirational aspects of this idea and called them “leadership.” We have taken the more mundane and uninteresting aspects and labeled them “management.” In a similar way, when someone occupies a role of authority within a hierarchy, and they are successful, we tend to call them leaders. When they are somehow unsuccessful, or at least not liked, we tend to refer to them as managers.
Thus, it’s clear to see that all leaders are managers of people, tasks, and processes. It’s also clear that all managers are leaders. If they have direct reports, they are leaders in the classic sense. The only question is whether or not they are a good leader. Even if a manager has no direct reports, the modern paradigm suggests they are all still leaders, capable of shaping others through example and positive persuasion. So, in progressive organizations, top leaders honestly suggest that we are all leaders and that we must strive to be effective within that role.
Maybe it’s time to stop thinking about manager versus leader and instead get focused on what it means to be a great leader.