Are You A Manager Or A Leader?

Greetings Leaders!

This may seem like a rhetorical question to you, but the answer is important on several levels. On an organizational level, it is vital, because managers and leaders are very different kinds of people. Both are needed in an organization, but if you have the wrong people in the wrong slots, disaster awaits. If you have a manager slotted where you need a leader (not leadership – but a leader), or you have a leader acting as a manager, you are asking for trouble. The manager won’t lead, and the leader will get bored and leave. On a personal level, you need to understand which one you are, and ensure that you are in a position that utilizes your strengths. So how do you know if you are a manager or a leader?

If you’ve studied leadership at all, I’m sure you’ve seen many different approaches to answering this question. I recently read Trends and Perspectives in Management and Leadership Development by Richard Bolden from the Centre of Leadership Studies and I thought the ideas presented in his paper made a lot of sense. One distinction that he made concerning a leader and a manager, is that a leader looks to the future.

Leadership development is distinct from management development in the extent to which it involves preparing  people for  roles and  situations beyond their current experience. Management development, he argues, equips managers with the knowledge, skills and abilities to enhance performance on known tasks through the application of proven solutions, whilst leadership development is defined as “orientated towards building capacity in anticipation of unforeseen challenges.”

This is critical to understand. A manager performs well in “the known”. Now don’t get me wrong, a manager can lead. He or she can lead very well. But… that doesn’t mean they are a leader. There is a subtle distinction here worth noting. Managers have many valuable traits and skills. They communicate well, they understand process, they care about people. They are good at goal setting and team building and all the other things we associate with a leader. What a good manager may not excel at, is dealing with the unknown and leading people to a future vision.

A leader is well suited to moving forward, however, a leader has weaknesses that do not equip him or her well to manage the mundane. As a leader is well suited to deal with the unknown, he or she cannot deal with the mundane. While they can manage, it drains them. They cannot sit for long periods of time, managing things that don’t change.

So which are you? A manager or a leader? Don’t cheat yourself by saying both. Either you like to lead, or you like to manage. Neither answer is better than the other. We need good managers. We need good leaders. What we don’t need, is managers trying to lead, and leaders trying to manage. Do yourself a favor and give this some thought. Put yourself in a position that you are best suited for and you will find that career will sky rocket.

All the best!
All the time!

3 thoughts on “Are You A Manager Or A Leader?”

  1. Hi John,

    I really like your article and the quote you posted from the “Trends and Perspectives in Management and Leadership Development” university paper by Richard Bolden. This is by far one of the clearest and objective articles I’ve read recently on the differences between leadership and management.

    Many other articles on the subject try to make managers out to be evil, selfish people who exist solely to hold us back from moving forward. Your article clarifies that both roles are necessary in order to be successful.

    Someone asked this question on the Project Management Q&A site, What Are the Differences Between Project Leader and Project Manager, and our community came up with some interesting responses.

    Perhaps the main point to highlight from the answers submitted in our community is that anyone can be a leader, whether you’re a seasoned CEO or a new employee who uses his or her skills of persuasion and communication to elicit positive change.

    Mark Sanborn, author of “You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader”, also uses several examples of regular people from different communities who used skills of persuasion to help others reach their full potential or to help better their communities. These people didn’t have official titles, yet they made a measurable impact on the people around them.

    I also want to say that I like your visuals depicting the followers of a leader all standing in a circle, focused on the same point. Pictorially, this speaks a thousand words. Thank you again for publishing this helpful and accurate information.


  2. Hi James…

    Thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to provide such insightful comments. I checked out the Project Management QA site and bookmarked it. I think there is a lot of value there. I’m glad you liked the way I described the two. This question always gets me thinking about how we can help people understand what it takes to lead and/or manage.

    All the best!

  3. Hi John,
    your blog post is mindblowing for me, since at the time before I read this article. Before I read this article I really get into the different betweent project manager and project leader.

    Well, it’s great to have a better angle to understand both terms in real life.

    best regards.

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