Manager or Leader–Who are You?

Are you a manager or a leader?   How do you know?  What is a manager?  What is a leader?  How do they differ?

This series of questions has been asked so many times, so many different ways. Yet the answer, as complex as it may sound, is rather simple. Managing is NOT leading and the two terms are very different. Very often people use these titles interchangeably when they really shouldn’t.  Conversely, there are instances where one person may occupy both roles.  For example, you may have a department manager who is also a leader within the company. In this post, we will explore the major differences between leaders and managers and find out if in fact there are some shared characteristics.

What is a manager?

A manager is a dream-keeper. They are tools used by a leader (a visionary) who had a vision of something.  The manager is used by the leader to manage processes in order to fulfill that dream.

A manager is an authority figure who has subordinates. By definition, the manager has to have someone to manage.  Without subordinates, the manager’s position cannot exist.   There is no need for it.  Even when referring to a person who manages a resource (an account manager, database manage, etc.) the concept still applies. The difference is that the manager is managing materials and resources instead of people.

Managers have the authority to act within the bounds of a specified capacity (i.e. department manager–oversees activity in a particular department) and the authority to perform certain tasks (i.e. breaks, schedules) within the bounds of the capacity in which the operate.

Management is usually transactional. The manager tells the subordinate what to do and the subordinate complies.  It is important to note that even if the subordinate does not want to perform the task requested by the manager, he or she is more likely to compromise because of the promise of reward (usually monetary and in the form of a paycheck).

Managers focus on the work that has to be done. After all, most managers are subordinates themselves.  People who manage others are paid to get things done.  Someone has to oversee their work and make sure that they are performing up to what they were hired for, too.

Managers are comfort seekers.  They have no desire to rock the boat or go agains the status quo.  Recent research shows that managers are more likely to conform than to bring innovation. Long-term managers generally have a very low tolerance for risk and as such, try to avoid conflict and to keep their subordinates happy.

What is a leader?

Leaders are visionaries. They see, know and understand the big picture and lay a path to get there. This is true most often because it was that leader that constructed the vision in the first place. Leaders are great at communicating the vision to others beginning with the initial “why” and ending with the ultimate conclusion.

Because leaders are not managers, they do not have subordinates (It is important to note that leaders within an organization can have subordinates, but that is attributed to the management title that they hold). They have followers–a voluntary group of supporters who have chosen to fall up under the leader’s guidance.  Leaders want to lead and (somewhat indirectly) have given up formal control over their followers.  This is because following is a strictly voluntary action.

Leaders are charismatic. They use their personalities as the major way to get followers.  Leaders appeal to their follower’s emotions or other senses and that makes the follower want to follow the leader.

Leaders do not make threats (i.e. directly or indirectly stating that a person will lose their job/position if they do not do as you say) to get followers.  Telling people what to do has never been a way to get followers.

Leaders are people focused.  One of the main goals of a leader is people development.  In order to do this, a leader must be able to communicate across several different classes of people (executives, middle management, entry level, etc.). They must be good listeners andactively engage people with conversation.

Leaders are risk takers. They understand that nothing great has ever been accomplished from a comfortable, been-here-before view point. Leaders seek out and take calculated risks. They are much more risk-tolerant than managers and often see paths that others avoid as opportunities.

Leaders and managers can exist within the same organization and a lot of times within the same person.  There are just as many similarities to them as there are differences. Of the whole laundry list of characteristics for them both, people can exhibit any combination of characeristics individually or simultaneously.  Now that its been outlined for you, what are you–a leader or a manager?

Keep coming back for more on this topic…I’m liking where this is going, so this one may end up being a series.

Are You managing or leading?

Following is a voluntary action.

Keep leading!



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