Written by John A G Smith – Fri 23 Sep 2016
Congratulations! You got the promotion, but do you want to be a good leader or a good manager? Leadership skills and Management Skills for New Managers are 2 of our most popular business courses designed to help you on your way.
But what is the difference between a Leader and a Manager? I hear you ask..... using social history our expert John A G Smith explains.......
During many management courses I would ask participants if they would rather be known as a good leader or a good manager. Only about one in eight people opted for manager. After that we would get on to discussing what a leader – as opposed to a manager – actually is. The sort of adjectives suggested would include: listener, democratic, relaxed style and fair, for leaders whereas managers were frequently thought of as controlling, autocratic, strict and unbending.
So, all-in-all, a leader is basically ‘a nice guy.’ Right?
Yet if we look at various powerful people we hit some surprises. Try these: Churchill, Hitler and Mother Teresa: which are leaders and which are managers?
The consensus is that Churchill was definitely a leader. From 1939 to 1945 the country, the Empire and much of the free world followed him blindly and unquestioningly. But when one looks at his style he was, in many ways, decidedly autocratic. When he sent hundreds or even thousands of men to almost certain death he was far from ‘a nice guy’ … yet they went willingly. And, of course, Hitler was also far from being ‘a nice guy’, yet the German people followed him and many went as willingly to their deaths on his orders.
Mother Teresa did wonderful work and was adored by her followers and all she helped … but she ran her homes with a rigid and ruthless management style. Indisputably, she was a manager.
Why were so many prepared to lay down their lives for people like Churchill and Hitler? Searching the internet on the keywords of ‘leadership quote’ will return over forty million sayings from the sage to the cynical but most will suggest that the main characteristic of a leader is the ability to inspire or – in a quote attributed to George W. Bush – ‘that vision thing.’ A leader will know what has to be achieved (but so will a manager), possibly know how it must be achieved (whereas a manager definitely would), probably know who must be involved (as will a manager) … and have the ability to instil a vision of what that success looks like, which is where the manager may be lacking.
Managers need people to manage and they get there by being given the authority of the organisation. Leaders need followers but, without necessarily being handed down the authority, may only get them by inspiring them with the vision that, as a team, they can achieve success. But … get this … even if some, or even many, of the followers will need to make the supreme sacrifice in order to achieve it! The best description I’ve heard of leadership is: ‘the ability to inspire people to do what must be done.” Managers concentrate on processes and systems whereas leaders concentrate people. So this is where the manager loses in the popularity stakes in that all the organisational ability in the world will not make others want to ‘go over the top’ for the greater good.
There is, however, a potential failing with the inspirational leader … the vision must be valid and must hold true because, if it is not, the followers will begin to see through the façade. Whereas a manager with authority can enforce unpopular decisions a leader who operates solely by inspiration cannot. If followers become disillusioned by, for instance, lack of progress, slippage of timescales or unsustainable sacrifice, they will stop following. At that point the leader has two options: become more autocratic or give up.
So maybe leaders are not necessarily ‘nice guys’. Maybe managers are not necessarily ‘despots.’ And maybe anybody in authority can – maybe even ‘must’ – switch from one role to another depending upon the circumstances.
Managers say, “Go!” Leaders say, “Let’s go!” … or, at least, that is how it feels to the followers.
Image by Jonas Löwgren
While we’re looking at leadership, let’s have a look at one of the oldest questions on that topic: Are leaders born or made?
The field, from senior managers to business psychologists, is split but a recent study by the Center for Creative Leadership suggested that 19% believe they are born, 52% believe they are made with the remainder believing that training the right people will produce the best leaders. So, across industry, 81% of senior managers and leadership experts believe that some element of training is required in order to produce the best leaders. My personal experience is that a ‘born leader’ who requires no training whatsoever is an exceptional and rare entity … I’ve never met one.
Are you a leader or a manager? What are your thoughts on this debate? You can leave your thoughts in the ‘comments’ section below. Our experts at Silicon Beach are always happy to discuss this and other topics.