What’s the Difference Between a Manager and a Leader?
A lot of people use the word “manager” as a part of their job title or description, but “leaders” don’t get that label simply by being appointed to a post. Leadership is earned, and is hard-won, by the folks who prioritize and understand the traits and qualities that come with the unofficial title.
(Photo Credit: Hamed Saber/Flickr)
Did you ever wonder what separates the leaders from the managers? You aren’t alone. Here are some thoughts on the matter, from people who’ve worked to understand and define the key differences.
Many of the distinctions between the two come down to this central idea. Managers act like bosses by controlling people that work under them and by administering tasks. On the other hand, leaders guide, innovate, and inspire. They rely upon the trust they’ve built between themselves and their team members to be a force that motivates and keeps productivity high. It really comes down to leading through control, or managing through fear. In any given workplace example, it’s pretty clear to see whether the mindset of the one-in-charge was based in one or the other.
Management and leadership might not be mutually exclusive. Any organization needs a little management so that quarterly numbers are met, goals are set, projects are completed … it’s just that leaders also go a step beyond that, focusing attention on motivating and inspiring employees, working with teams to build a shared vision of the purpose, and future, of the company. Managers work through items on a to-do list and keep the system running, while leaders go a little deeper. They have their eye on the big picture as well as the finer details. Leaders are also more focused on change, and the future, than managers.
“If the world is not changing and you are on top, then management is essential but more leadership really is not,” says John Kotter, Konuske Matsushita Professor of leadership at Harvard University. “Leadership is always about change.”
It’s all in the way you look at it. Is a senior position about overseeing work that needs to get done, or is it about leading the people who do that work? What comes first, the tasks themselves or the people who work to complete them?
Professionals want, and deserve, a job that doesn’t treat them like a machine. They want to collaborate and they want to innovate, not feel like a cog in the wheel. The most appealing employers, according to millennials (which is now the largest generation in the U.S. labor force) are the companies that hit these marks. Companies like Google and Microsoft are known to be innovative and they provide opportunities for professional development and growth. The focus is on the people and their ideas, not the to-do list.
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