How to Know if You’re a Manager or a Leader
You’re not managing just because you run meetings or have a title.
You might own the place, but that doesn’t make you a leader.
Think of leadership and management as distinct ways of showing up.
Manager or leader:
John Kotter’s book, “That’s Not How We Do it Here!” is a fable that addresses tension between the divergent functions of management and leadership. The following lists are inspired by his work.
You’re managing when you:
- Plan and budget.
- Solve day-to-day problems.
- Track processes and measure results.
- Hire, fire, and concern yourself with job descriptions.
You’re leading when you:
- Set direction.
- Align people.
- Seize opportunities.
Insights from Warren Bennis:
“Failing organizations are usually over-managed and under-led.”
- You’re managing when you concern yourself with how and when questions.
- You’re leading when you concern yourself with what and why questions.
Over-led organizations end up chaotic.
Over-managed organizations end up bureaucratic.
Which is better:
Leaders need managers and managers need leaders. It’s a matter of context.
- Leaders drive change.
- Managers require stability to deliver results reliably.
Small organizations in stable environments need manager-leaders. But you can’t manage your way out of a crisis.
Chaotic organizations need management.
Stagnant organizations need leadership.
Vision is a fundamental distinction:
Managers concern themselves with execution. Leaders concern everyone with purpose and direction – vision.
Ask management to craft a vision and they make a five-year plan.
Vision includes the practical question, “Where can the horses in the barn take us if we all pull together and stretched our capacity?”
“What’s crucial about a vision is not its originality but how well it serves the interests of important constituencies – customers, stockholders, employees—and how easily it can be translated into a realistic competitive strategy.” John Kotter
What is the difference between management and leadership?
How do managers and leaders best relate to each other?
I talked with John Kotter a couple years ago. Perhaps this post will be useful: HOW TO WORK TOGETHER WITHOUT KILLING EACH OTHER
Another good info piece. The distinction between Vision and Mission is one that many of my clients have had difficulty understanding. I like how you teased it here with the Management versus Leader dialogue. Thank you.
Thanks Gregory. It’s interesting that terms like vision, mission, and values get so misunderstood.
Mission is what we do
Vision is where we’re going
Values is how we behave along the way
I know it’s more than that, but I need something simple and actionable.
Simple but effective way to describe these terms.
An interesting and the thought-provoking post!
There is a clear distinction between the roles of Leaders and Managers. Leaders [Top Management especially CEOs & other SBU Heads] need to have a strategic vision to make the company grow in a well-envisaged futuristic challenging environment. They are very optimistic and usually are driven by their passion to reach the newer heights with out-of-box thinking and look for the new technology and skills to make a big leap. in a sustainable manner. Managers, on the other hand, have the role of good executors. They make things really happen with the directives and guidance coming from the top.
It’s an accepted truth, “All Managers can be Good Leaders with proper grooming and the strategic long-term focus but All Leaders can’t be Good Managers”. Leaders can be failures if they try to do both the things together.
Thanks Dr. Asher. The idea that leaders can’t be good managers is fascinating to me. I’d never thought of that. Thanks for a thought provoking idea.
Thank you, Dan! One of the best explanations of Managers and Leaders I have heard! Too often they get used interchangeably.
Thanks Jordan. I’m guilty of using the term leader as a catch-all. It’s not the best.
I agree Jordan! You took the words right out of my mouth!
I agree; a great explanation! I appreciate the simplicity and clarity of it. Thanks, Dan, for reminding me that the two are not the same.
Managers use current methods and procedures to get the job done. Managers like stability. They preserve the status quo.
Leaders focus on change. They believe the current situation can be improved. Leaders disrupt the status quo.
Do you need to be both manager and leader?
Yes, of course.
But as John Kotter says, …some executives over-manage and under-lead their teams and organization. What does that mean? They keep doing things the same old way. Too much status quo and not enough change. They are slow to change and fall behind the competition.
On the other hand, some executives over-lead and under manage. What does that mean? They are trying to change too much too fast. What’s the result?
-Stressed out employees.
Bottom line–We need managers and leaders but in the right ratio. Too much change is as bad as little or no change.
Thanks Paul. Your comment suggests the importance of understanding context. What is the internal context and external context. The more challenging question is how to respond to the context.
I’m very interested in a discussion on one of your questions: “How do managers and leaders best relate to each other?” My knee-jerk reaction is “by focusing on the goals.” I have some other notions as well,but I’d love to hear the thoughts of the collective. Both tend to chafe each other with their “dreamy” or “boring” approach to meeting goals, but they should also realize they need each other for maximum performance. Other thoughts?
A leader in our Company has taught me to think about “the possibilities” as a way to bridge the gap between leader thinking and management thinking. Thereby directing the managing efforts towards something in a way that stretches a manager’s thinking on execution needs.
Nathan, your “chafing” distinction b/t (impossible) “dreamers!” & (possible but) “bore-ring…” dialogues hits the central nail on the head …
(Imaginative) Visionaries view “reality” from a mind-over-matter predisposition (if I can “see” it, then we can make it real), while
(practical) Doers view it from a matter-first perspective (if it doesn’t exist in material, controllable form, then it’s not “realistic”).
Each appreciating the other’s “respected” prerogative (and constructively affirming both as imperatives) is the ground upon which consensus (and constructive synergy) is built.
E.g. one can make the reasonable argument that Steve Jobs effectively killed himself, so strong (and apparently/traditionally successful) was his mind-over-matter predisposition that he refused medical/scientific intervention/guidance over his malady.
Many companies have (historically and metaphorically) done the same form of self-annihillation.
That’s why&how these dialogues require us to leave our “egos” at the door to get dreaming&doing to marry up successfully and relate properly.
‘Dems my thoughts on difficult and opposing predispositions.
The primary differentiation between leadership and management, in your own terms (and supplemented/alluded to in previous comments above), is
WHY [strategy / “big picture” – long term objectives]
HOW [tactics / “immediate focus” – short term achievements],
BOTH are necessary and desirable for BOTH to comprehend and affirm (to be ultimately successful),
and each to align with one another while doing so (to achieve the ever elusive “synergy” thruout)
such that the WHOLE effect IS GREATER THAN the mere summation of its (component and perfected) PARTS.
Leadership concerns itself with the cumulative effect (synergy) while management concerns itself with the continual improvement (both in efficacy and alignment) of the working/discernable results.
The feedback b/t leaders and managers requires each to be aware of the other’s ambitions, and to make adjustments together (In both strategy AND tactics) as the results come in (quantifiable) and the effects become known (qualifiable).
BOTH have to be planners …
Leaders plan the “War”
Managers plan for “Battles.”
It takes vastly different mindsets/worldviews …
the same way that programs [e.g. NASA] and
projects [think “moonshot”] require different “styles” of thinking …
to succeed together (one without the other simply won’t happen);
[i.e. if Apollo 13 hadn’t overcome its adversity and challenges, that may have been the effective end of NASA right then and there.]
Thanks Rurbane, You wrote so many useful things. The thing that speaks most deeply to me is, “The feedback b/t leaders and managers requires each to be aware of the other’s ambitions, and to make adjustments together…”
How do managers and leaders successfully interact? Be aware of what each needs to succeed. Acting on this awareness stretches both managers and leaders. The very act of stretching ourselves to both understand and accommodate another strengthens connection and enables results.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Dan,
But What and When are both their concerns … if uncoordinated and/or misaligned, it could spell “man-made” disaster/unintended consequences of a less than productive nature.
I think the main idea is coordination. Perhaps words like alignment and shared commitment fit here as well.
Leadership is about knowing the direction of the company and encouraging/supporting folks to pursue the direction. Managers are all about execution toward achieving the direction. Both can be encompassed within the same individual. Glad I experienced several Leaders/Managers in my career at DuPont.
Yes indeed, Jim. I’m wondering if those who are most successful in both areas are also most successful with relationships or more broadly, emotional intelligence. I believe Goleman says that EQ is the number one factor in leadership success.
Agree, hard to be a Leader/Manager at work and not exhibit the same behavior at home, but I suspect there are exceptions to this notion.
Fabulous viewpoints, I struggle with Leaders not being good Managers, perhaps we are Leaders before we are ready to manage? Many Managers can’t Lead people, yet millions follow them, Bill Gates for example.
There are different Managers of people, Managers of Finance, etc. Seems to be a challenge to see which hat works, to each their own.
Thanks Tim. You reminded me about Drucker’s statement. Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. (I’m not particularly sure why that came to mind.) Cheers
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