Leadership v. Management

I’ve met many people that are great managers but far fewer that are good leaders. The difference is not just the matter of text books but is a real, if not tangible, aspect of life. Both semantically, logically, and theoretically the leader is distinguished from the manager by function.

The manager is set to manage a given set of tasks to ensure a specific and quantifiable outcome. Whether this set of tasks involves people, processes, or both is irrelevant as the only change is in the style of management, not the function of it. The manager’s primary tool is authority, typically vested through an organization that both managers and their subordinates are a member of. Almost everyone has had some exposure to management so this should be an easily understandable relationship to most.

Like the manager the ultimate purpose of the leader is to achieve a desired goal. However this is where the paths diverge. It is the methodologies of the leader that make the position so disparate from management. Leaders will typically have a vision, values, and a strategy that will help guide their decisions and actions. Unlike the manager these goals will not always be backed by corporate clout – there are many instances where the better leader reports to a less capable one or there is no manager at all.

So without appropriate authority how does the leader achieve goals? Through aligning followers to subscribe to common visions, values, and strategies. Look to volunteer organizations for an example of this – most have leaders and a great number of followers that remain attached because they subscribe to the vision, values, and strategy of the leadership. This alignment may come through a grass roots effort or it may begin at the top. No matter where the origin is the success of any initiative lies in getting people on board. Countless sources show that the number one reason change initiatives fail is because of an inherent lack of a culture that supports change, which directly translates to lack of leadership.

We will all run across people who are strong managers, people who are strong leaders, and the very lucky among us will find those who are good at both.  It is when people see the need for change and take action that initiatives are likely to succeed. Likewise it is when people sit around and wait for managers to tell them to change that it is likely to fail. In order to illicit real change one must gain the hearts and minds of followers.

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Jason McDonald

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  • Hey. Nice article. I was thinking many times what is the difference between a team manager and a team leader. Now I know 🙂 Thanks!

  • Thanks for the contribution Steve and you have a great point regarding the vision. One of the biggest obstacles even good leaders face lies in understanding when to change or even forsake their vision in lieu of something more appropriate.

  • I think that it can also be said that often great leaders are poor managers. They have the ideas and vision, even the charisma but they lack the organizational skills and often don’t have patients for the details. It’s like you need sales and accounting to run a successful business. There are a great number of jobs were a manager doesn’t actually manage other people especially in smaller companies. I agree that both are important skill sets and they don’t always come in the same person.

    Final point, being a great leader doesn’t mean you have a vision that will actually work out. Leader’s can lead other to greatness or off a cliff.

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