Like most young people entering the workforce in the early 1980s, I had great aspirations. I aspired to be a big-time manager for a major corporation. I knew I was not CEO material. But, I wanted to be a manager. And over the next 15 years I achieved that. At one point, I had almost 100 people reporting to me.
Then, something inside of me began to change. I began to have other aspirations. I yearned to lead and not just manage.
I have nothing disparaging to say about managers and management. Many writers and practitioners of leadership development have very little that is positive to say about managers. Managers are vital to the overall success of an organization. We need managers. Well, we need good managers. But for purposes of today’s article, I want to draw some distinctions between leaders and managers.
Here Are Three Key Differences
Leaders “Coach” and Managers “Drive”
Leaders “coach” their teams to deliver more and achieve greater success. They may not always be the best “player” on the team. But they have the ability to coach the greatest results from the team. Take a look at one of the greatest athletic coaches of all time — Vince Lombardi. He tried to play semi-professional football and was a debt collector before finding his true gift as a football coach. He began at St. Cecelia Catholic High School and he reached the pinnacle of coaching and success with the Green Bay Packers.
Managers on the other hand “drive” their teams to just work harder. If hard work were really all it takes to succeed managers would be issued whips and clubs along with their MBA degrees and success would soon follow! But that is not the case. Working hard is not always working smart.
Leaders “Show” and Managers “Know”
Leaders show their teams how to get it done. This may, at first, seem as though the leader must be technically the best at all aspects of the mission. This would be a contradiction to thoughts on the leader as a “coach”. It is not a contradiction. Leaders demonstrate what they are wanting from their team. And if they don’t have the skill personally, they go out and get an expert to come in and demonstrate. The point here is that they are actively, personally, and emotionally involved and invested in the success of the team.
Managers on the other hand “know” how to get it done, they are just too busy doing other things to take the time to share their knowledge and experience with their team. They would rather sit in their office and send an email to the team with instructions than walk out and sit with the team and share their experience in solving a similar challenge.
Leaders “Develop” and Managers “Use”
Leaders develop this around them and build them up and make more leaders. But, leaders also recognize that not everyone on the team aspires to leadership at the highest levels. So, leaders develop their team and provide opportunities to achieve success as top producers in the market or practitioners of the skills that give each team member the greatest feeling of personal achievement. They view their team as partners. They never allow their team to become obsolete and always provide opportunities to expand and grow.
Managers on the other hand “use” people and then when they are used up or no longer of value, they discard them and move on to someone else. Managers see their team members as tools to achieve a goal. If a tool is broken or unable to function, they are discarded.
I said that I would not disparage managers. And I have come close in this last comparison. I don’t really intend to make it sound quite as negative as it sounds. My only point is that the skills of management are different and more “utilitarian”. They are more task driven and not always focused on the long-term. Managers are indeed necessary and managing is an honorable skill set.
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Perhaps it comes down to this as the main difference: The main difference between a leader and a manager is that a leader has a team that “follows” them while a manager has a team that “works” for them.
Which one are you to those around you? And are you a follower or a worker?