Are You are a Leader or a Manager?

Are you a leader or a manager? Every organization needs both, so don’t be ashamed to answer either way, but it’s very important that you know the difference, which one you do best, and then try to arrange your career in a way where you can best live out your potential.

In the book “Reviewing Leadership”, the authors Banks and Ledbetter write, “Leadership and management are two distinct yet related systems of action….They are similar in that each involves influence as a way to move ideas forward, and both involve working with people. Both are also concerned with end results.  Yet the overriding functions of leadership and management are distinct.  Management is about coping with complexity – it is responsive. Leadership is about coping with change – it too is responsive, but mostly it is proactive.  More chaos demands more management, and more change always demands more leadership.  In general, the purpose of management is to provide order and consistency to organizations, while the primary function of leadershp is to produce change and movement.”  (Portions of this quote were taken from “Leadershp, Theory and Practice” by Peter Northouse , according to the footnotes.)

I think that’s a great summary of the differences between leadership and management for organizations and individuals to consider.  Too many times we ask good managers to be great leaders or good leaders to be great managers.  The problem with being in the wrong fit either way is that, as is true with any task, we tend to burn out more quickly when we are not able to live out our giftedness.  In addition we frustrate the people we are supposed to be leading or managing and ultimately we keep the organization from being the best it can be.

Do a self-evaluation of which you are more skilled at doing.  Are you a better leader or a better manager?  Don’t try to be something you are not.

I know I identify with one of these roles more than the other.  One description fires me up…the other bums me out.  (If you can guess which one I’ll give you that t-shirt I mentioned in my last blog that I never got.)  What about you?  Are you in your proper fit?

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Ron Edmondson

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  • Sorry to disagree, Ron,

    People should not get confused by catchy answers like “A manager does things right, a leader does the right thing.” These sell books but they have no substance.

    Managing applies to the effective use of a resource such as money management or supply chain management or what-have-you. People are a resource and they must be managed like any other resource, but obviously the tools are different for each resource.

    Leadership applies to people and denotes the sending of value standard messages to people which they then follow/use. Thus we say that they have been “led” in the direction of those value standards. Leadership is therefore one side of the coin called values, the other side being followership.

    Any manager who accepts the responsibility of managing people as well as one or more other resources such as production machinery, sales, finances or whatever must be proficient at managing them all. Otherwise, they should not have accepted the job.

    To say that “Management is about coping with complexity – it is responsive. Leadership is about coping with change – it too is responsive, but mostly it is proactive.” is so much bull, a catchy group of words without truth. Complexity includes change since change is a constant in everything. To think that leadership is only about change and has nothing to do with the everyday routine is likewise untrue.

    Whatever one manages, one must learn the skills and methods required to succeed in that milieu. For most, one can find some very good books that do disclose most or many of the related truths. Unfortunately, for managing people that is not the case. And the vast majority of those who publish have never proven what they profess.

    Best regards, Ben
    Author “Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed”

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