The Difference Between Managers and Leaders

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It is often difficult to understand the difference between managers and leaders. Do managers lead? Do leaders manage? To understand how these two concepts are distinct yet different, here are 7 ways to understand them.

1. Course and Steering. The word “leadership" comes from the Old English word “lad" for a “course". A “lode" is a vein that leads or guides to ore; a lodestone is a magnetic stone that guides; the lode-star is the name for the star that guides sailors, the Pole star. The word “management" comes from the Latin word “manus", the hand, from which we also get “maintenance" and “mainstay". Leadership guides by setting a ship's course. Management keeps a hand on the tiller.

2. Growth and Survival. Organisations are no different from any other living organism: they need both to survive and grow. Survival is necessary in order to meet the basic requirements of life: in individuals, food, water and shelter; in organisations, a profit, customers, premises, and work. Growth is also necessary so that, like the individual person, an organisation can make the most of what it is capable of. The maintenance of the organisation is essentially a management function: measuring, looking back, assessing, taking stock, taking careful decisions. Taking the organisation into areas of growth, change and development, to make the most of it, is what leadership is all about.

3. Resources and Potential. Management measures what it can count and see. A person in the enterprise is described by their name and title, measured by their output, listed in the database according to their skills and added in the accounts under the heading “manpower resources". Management deals with the past and how people performed to date. Leadership, on the other hand, sees people as capable of things you cannot measure and doing things they never thought possible. It deals with the future and how people could perform if their potential were realised.

4. Left and Right Brains. The left hemisphere of the brain is the seat of our logical and rational thinking. The right brain is the seat of our imaginative, creative and emotional thinking. While these two sides are distinct, they also work best when whole. The left brain is an analogy for management. It deals with what can be counted; detail; control; domination; worldly interests; action; analysis; measurement; and order. The right brain is an analogy for leadership. It deals with what cannot be counted; seeing things as a whole; synthesis; possibilities; belief; vision; artistry; intuition; and imagination.

5. The Seven S’s. Richard Pascale says that the processes that take place in organisations fall under seven “S" headings: strategy, structure, systems, shared values, staff, skills and style. The functions of strategy, structure, and systems are the hard S’s and the proper concern of managers because they deal with things or technology. The functions of staff, skills, style, and shared values are the soft S’s and the proper concern of leaders because they deal with people.

6. Art and Science. John Adair in his book “Leadership" compares management and leadership to the old dichotomy of Art and Science. Managers are of the mind, accurate, calculated, routine, statistical, methodical. Management is a science. Leaders are of the spirit, compounded of personality and vision. Leadership is an art. Managers are necessary; leaders are essential.

7. Short-Term and Long. When an organisation thinks about now and the near-future, it thinks of itself as a production unit. It sees the problems it might face as technical problems needing technical answers. When an organisation thinks about the distant future, it thinks about building, learning and growing. It seeks to identify and develop its opportunities. It defines itself by what it is, not by what it does. The difference between short-term and long-term thinking is the difference between an organisation that holds on tight to what it has and an organisation that stays loose and lets things grow. Organisations that need quick fixes rely on managers. Organisations that want to grow rely on leaders.

The difference between management and leadership is like the difference between male and female, sun and moon, night and day, fat and thin, hot and cold, coming and going, and so on. They are two sides to the same coin. In being the one, we see the other. While different and distinct, they are parts of the whole: essential contrasts, that in contrasting, make clearer the other.

© Eric Garner,

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