Leaders vs. Managers: Is there a difference?


Have you ever felt that you wanted to be "the boss" but never really wanted your manager's job? You may want to lead instead of manage. 

Management: The management’s role is to plan, organize, coordinate, and execute resources.

Leader: The leader’s role is to inspire, motivate and cope with change.

When we break it down, what is the difference between a leader and a manager?

John P. Kotter from Harvard Business Review: What Leaders Really do describes Management vs. Leadership in the following excerpt:

Management is about coping with complexity. Its practices and procedures are largely a response to one of the most significant developments of the twentieth century: the emergence of large organizations. Without good management, complex enterprises tend to become chaotic in ways that threaten their very existence. Good management brings a degree of order and consistency to key dimensions like the quality and profitability of products.

Leadership, by contrast, is about coping with change. Part of the reason it has become so important in recent years is that the business world has become more competitive and more volatile. Faster technological change, greater international competition, the deregulation of markets, overcapacity in capital-intensive industries, an unstable oil cartel, raiders with junk bonds, and the changing demographics of the work-force are among the many factors that have contributed to this shift. The net result is that doing what was done yesterday, or doing it 5% better, is no longer a formula for success. Major changes are more and more necessary to survive and compete effectively in this new environment. More change always demands more leadership.

Warren Bennis described in 1989 book, “On Becoming a Leader,”  put together a list of differences:

  1. The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  2. The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  3. The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  4. The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  5. The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  6. The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  7. The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  8. The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
  9. The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  10. The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  11. The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  12. The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

Industrial vs. The New Economy

The focus in the industrial-era was on efficiency.

A front line worker in an industrial-era factory didn’t have to give much thought to what he was producing and who he was producing it for.

His or her job was to follow orders, organize the work, assign the right people to the required tasks, coordinate results, and ensure the job got done as planned.

In the new economy, where value is increasingly coming from the knowledge of the people, and workers are no longer just cogs in an industrial super-machine, management and leadership are not easily separated.

How can a manager better use leadership skills?

  1. Workers need managers to not only assign tasks but to define purpose in projects.
  2. Managers must organize workers, not just to maximize efficiency, but to nurture skills, develop talent and inspire results.
  3. Leadership and management must go hand in hand.

Purpose Drives Results

Employees look to management, not just to assign them tasks, but to define a purpose of the project.

Managers must organize workers to maximize efficiency, nurture skills, develop talent, and inspire results.

The late management guru Peter Drucker was one of the first to recognize this truth. He identified the emergence of the “knowledge worker”.

Peter Drucker states:

“One does not ‘manage’ people, the task is to lead people”.

“The goal is productivity in the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual.”

In the long run, efforts in separating the two cause more issues than solutions.

Life demands leadership and management. To move our teams ahead to realize our full potential, it will require leadership and management to show the way.