“Managers are people who do things right, and leaders are people who do the right things.” Warren Bennis
I’m not sure why, but recently I’ve come across an increasing number of articles, quotes, memes or infographics that compare managers against leaders. That’s no bad thing in itself, but the problem is that the vast majority are effectively saying you should only aspire to be a leader and not a manager, as they are deemed to be inferior.
Messages like the above are not only insulting to managers, but more importantly, potentially destructive. Here’s another one from my newsfeed today:
The difference often lies in people’s understanding and interpretation of the words. In simple terms, management is more about a set of processes, like planning, budgeting, measuring performance and allocation of resources. Leadership involves vision, empowerment, direction and inspiration.
They are not interchangeable, but in today’s ever increasingly complex work environment, the distinction is becoming more blurred. Good management is a crucial element for any successful company, as is strong leadership, however the latter is often lacking and therefore gets all the headlines.
In my work, I’m known more for being a leadership trainer but I’m often at my best when working with new managers and high potential staff. I offer both management and leadership workshops as I see them as different skill sets, but and it’s a big but, I don’t promote one over the other.
To do so, would be disrespectful to the millions of managers across the world who are still working on their leadership skills. Just because they need to develop this skill set does not mean they are ineffective in their role, nor important to their companies.
A problem I often see in companies that I work with is managers who can’t lead, and leaders who forget to, or can’t manage. I want everyone I work with to be great leaders, but the most effective leaders are also great managers.
Yes, they inspire people, have vision, and show a high degree of emotional intelligence, but they also understand the details of the job, how to allocate their resources effectively, and improve processes to increase overall productivity.
One of the core differences I see is that managers come with a title (no getting around that!), but leadership can and should come at any point in your career. Great leaders normally started displaying leadership skills in their teens, however didn’t start building their management toolkit until later in life when in gainful employment.
Strong leaders from an early age then run the risk of not developing good management skills, or even wanting to. Leaders who see typical managerial tasks as mundane, or even beneath them, risk looking aloof and disconnected from the real issues facing their companies.
There are certain jobs, and workplace situations, that benefit more from a managerial mindset, than one of inspirational leadership. True leadership is knowing how to adapt your style (e.g. from transactional to transformational) to the situation without losing any of your personal values.
These views are not new or revolutionary. Both Erika Andersen and Bob Sutton wrote (nice and more succinctly) about this issue 5 years ago (here and here respectively) , yet the increase in publishing platforms (including LinkedIn) is only serving to increase the frequency and magnitude of these opposing views.
Rather than posting things that highlight, and encourage a difference between managers and leaders, why not acknowledge that great leaders need to possess both sets of skills. These skills are often required at different stages of their career, and we need to be helping employees not only develop these skills but recognize when and how to use them. We need to help them develop ‘Manageship’!