What is the difference between a manager and a leader?
This is a challenging question with a thousand possible answers that business executives and educators continue to struggle with every day.
Not only are the differences difficult to distinguish, but the quandary is exacerbated by the overlap between the two. The ideal manager is also a leader, and a leader is often also called upon to serve in a managerial role.
Today’s business environment requires both skill sets more than ever. Business moves at a faster pace, the challenges are international in scope, emerging technology and communications media demand round-the-clock attention, and the pressure is intense. It takes more than accountability measures to bring out the best in employees.
One meaningful way to compare leadership to management is to see the difference in focus. A leader leads people, while a manager manages work. The former is people oriented, the latter is task oriented.
The manager focuses on day-to-day work. He concentrates on the near-term. He works through the people assigned to him to accomplish the tasks at hand.
Because of this shorter-term, task orientation in which managers assign resources within time, cost, and other restraints and assure that defined work standards are met, certain functions are central to management.
Planning and budgeting ensure the effective direction of resources. They take the long-term direction provided by leadership and break it down for implementation within a specified time period.
Organizing, controlling, and coordinating are the aspects of management that relate to ongoing activity following the initial planning and budgeting stages. Scheduling and time management add the element of “when” to these managerial roles.
Problem resolution and decision making also continue on an ongoing basis. These contribute the flexibility to address challenges as they appear and correct course as needed.
Leadership develops a bigger-picture vision of the world. It functions at a much higher level than management.
The first responsibility of the leader is visioning. The leader is charged with determining the organization’s direction. Then she inspires others to achieve at their highest levels in support of this vision. The skills of the leader are interpersonal. They include motivating, persuading, and inspiring others to enlist in the cause. The leader also helps employees grow in their responsibilities and share their talents more effectively. These roles include counseling, coaching, and mentoring.
Each employee can contribute their own leadership attributes to the organization by adding their own value in these six ways:
- Positively influence the vision and its expression. Ask questions, listen for answers. Contribute fully to the discussion. Communicate with others and help them distill the best ideas.
- Acknowledge and apply your unique strengths and talents. Don’t sit by and do the minimum. You will benefit the team and stand out as a leader when you play at the top of your game.
- Determine your work goals and make plans to achieve them. Some experts recommend that you analyze your weaknesses and turn them around. Others recommend identifying strengths and making them even stronger. Which route you choose depends on your intended destination.
- Admit your mistakes and failures and learn from them. Everyone trips in the journey of life. Use these errors as opportunities to learn life lessons.
- Be curious. Continue to learn. There is always more to know. Read biographies and autobiographies to explore the challenges that leaders have faced and how they overcame them. Be open to inspiration!
- Be the change you want to see in the workplace. Set an example for others through your own contribution.
You can be a leader regardless of your current role in your organization. Giving the best you have to offer and helping your team reach greater heights is worth the effort and will add meaning and fulfillment to your career.
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