Leader or manager?

A while ago a colleague of mine asked me the question “Do you consider yourself to be a leader or a manager?” Initially, I responded that I thought myself to be a manager as an essential aspect of my role is managing expectations, ideas and developments of a number of services. However, a debate ensued as my colleague believed me to be more a leader than a manager, and now I am not so sure which one I am!

So what is the distinction between a leader and a manager? Will the definitions help?

A leader is “someone or something that leads or guides others” or “someone who organises or is in charge of a group.” A manager is “someone who manages, especially someone in overall charge or control of a commercial enterprise, organisation, project, etc.”

Does this help me? Not yet!

Both a manager and a leader may know the business reasonably well, but the leader must understand the organisation to a finer degree and from a different viewpoint. They must grasp the underlying market forces that determine the past and present trends in the business’ niche so that they can generate a vision and strategy to bring about its future development and growth. A vital sign of a good leader is an honest attitude towards the facts and objective truth. Conversely, a subjective leader obscures the events for the sake of narrow self-interest, partisan interest or prejudice.

Effective leaders continually probe all levels of the organisation for information, challenging their perceptions and validating the facts. They talk to their constituents and employees to find out what is working and what is not. They keep an open mind to the knowledge they gain. An important source of information for a leader are the mistakes that are being made within their organisation.

Leaders conquer the context, the chaotic and ambiguous events that conspire to blur the facts, while managers surrender to the events in a reactionary manner.

Leaders investigate reality, taking the relevant factors and analysing them carefully. On the basis, they produce visions, concepts, plans and programs of change. Managers adopt the truth from others and implement it without regard to the facts.

There is a profound difference between leaders and managers. A good manager does things right while a good leader does the right thing. Doing the right thing implies a goal, a direction, an objective, vision, a dream, a strategy, a path, a reach.

Many people spend their lives engrossed in the ‘rat-race’, attempting to climb the corporate management ladder in a vain effort to beat mediocrity and make a difference. Unfortunately, many find themselves climbing the wrong ladder. Most companies and organisations become over-managed through this constant, unending, highly competitive race and under-led by those who lack vision. The managers accomplish nothing or the wrong things beautifully and efficiently. They climb the wrong ladder.

Managing is as much about efficiency as leadership is about effectiveness. Managing is about how things are done; leadership is about what things need to be done and why these things should be done. Management is about systems, controls, procedures, policies and structures, whereas leadership is about, trust, vision and hum capital, people.

Leadership is about innovating concepts, inspiring others and initiating projects. Management is about carrying out these visions and managing the status quo. Leadership is creative, adaptive and agile. Leadership looks to the future while also being mindful of the bottom line.

Leaders base their vision, appeal and integrity on an accurate estimation of the facts, trends and contradictions. They develop the means to re-define the status-quo so that they can realise their vision, hopefully, successfully, while also enrolling others into their view of the future. Without other people’s buy-in, a vision will stall, and a period of transition will ensue. Leaders, therefore, have to empower others to accomplish the over-arching goal while also rewarding their achievements.

There is a profound difference between management and leadership. To manage means “to bring about or succeed in accomplishing, sometimes despite difficulty or hardship.” To Lead means “to guide in direction, course, action, opinion, etc.” The distinction is important.

The most dramatic differences between leaders and managers are at the extremes. Weak leaders are despots, while poor managers are bureaucrats. Leadership is a human process and management is a resource allocation process. Both are important and in many instances, managers also need to perform as leaders. Indeed first-class managers have significant leadership ability.

So where does this leave me? My opening gambit included the words “…an important aspect of my role is managing expectations, ideas and developments…” this must naturally lead me to a combination of both a leader and a manager. Indeed, in my new role as a service designer and creative technologist, I have to set directions for developing concepts and services while also planning, organising and promoting the effective action of the task at hand. So I could say I am in a period of transition. In the past few years, I have learnt much from those I consider mentors, whether they were aware or not. I have seen how things are managed and lead, and from these experiences have built upon my skill-set. I can neither categorically say I am a leader or a manager, or say what I would rather be; this is something that can only come with time.

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