6 Differences between leaders and managers


In my last post I mentioned the capacities of insight and outsight, two characteristics which distinguish leaders from managers. Leaders, as set apart from management tasks, are supposed to “see” further and deeper than those who serve under them. It is the “Line of Sight” principle.

Here are 6 differences. There are doubtless many more, but for this elementary exploration, these set the stage. I’d like to here from you on this topic, too.

  1. Effective leaders think longer term while managers are unit thinkers. Managers process steps, checklists, charts, systems, and diagrams. Please don’t think I am maligning managers. Managers are absolutely and comprehensively necessary to the efficient function of a group. But their responsibilities are different. Managers exercise leadership to some degree but of necessity limit themselves to units of time, quantities of product, and/or scheduling of events. Leaders, at least the effective ones, have a knack for considering the long-term effects of the processes managers must manage.
  2. Effective leaders look beyond the unit they are heading and grasp its relationship to larger realities. They are able to connect the pieces and see how one unit plays into another then joins with yet another to create the desired result. Managers continue to focus their attention upon processes even if those processes no longer contribute to the end objectives or their validity has been lost. When I lived and worked in the Caribbean, I learned that it took a great deal of effort to get a driver’s license. There were endless papers that had to be completed, medical exams that had to be passed, and you had to find someone to take two passport-size photos so the license bureau could laminate them into your license. The island government finally decided to join the modern world and purchased computerized equipment that enabled them to take a photo at the window and produce a driver’s license on the spot. For many months following the introduction of these machines, applicants still had to bring with them two passport size photos. Clerks would collect the photos and staple them to the application, then ask the applicant to stand still while his or her photo was taken by the computer for the license. Finally someone asked why two passport photos were still required when the computer took the license photo? The response? “Because it is on the checklist and the manager says we have to follow the list!”
  3. Effective leaders reach and influence constituents beyond their jurisdictions. Managers are limited by geography and focus to their particular place in the organizational plan. Leader’s see up and out, but manager’s focus down and within. The effects of effective leadership are usually far-reaching. Decisions and supporting actions change the nature of business, politics, culture, and life. Managers, on the other hand, are committed to keeping systems running as they are. When leaders lead they build recognition. Their renown spreads. Others see what they’ve done or hear about it and success promotes emulation. This is the “tide effect.” When the tide rises, all boats float higher. Effective leaders bring success to everyone in the group, to any associated groups within the company or organization, and to some extent, to the competition in business. How? Departments win or lose as units. Companies succeed or fail entirely. Along the way, those leaders responsible for segments of the operation can inspire others to action. Competition provokes imitation. When another’s group does better than ours, we are prompted to overtake them. The reverse is true, too. When my company does well my competitors don’t just roll over and give up. They respond by improving. Look at McDonalds and its many imitators. Burger King, Wendy’s, Arby’s, and more continually practice one-upmanship. McDonalds set the standard and they keep raising the bar. Apple Computers does the same.
  4. Effective leaders put heavy emphasis on the intangibles of vision, values, and motivation. They understand the non-rational and unconscious elements that characterize and influence interaction between leaders and their constituents. This is where leaders really shine. They don’t have to be very specific. Painting with a broad brush attracts the widest audience. Followers love to hear of grand and sweeping vistas yet to be realized. Presidents Reagan and Obama were very gifted at this. They both spoke in terms that resonated with listeners but avoided being very specific which allowed those listeners to draw their own conclusions about what the speaker was promising. That the interpretations might have had little to do with what the leader could actually do was, at the point of speaking, irrelevant. It is the very act of inspiration that matters. Managers usually don’t even attempt to do this. They just get through the day getting the task list completed.
  5. Effective leaders have the political skill to cope with conflicting requirements of multiple constituencies. I confess that is much easier said than done. Leaders are a great deal like kings or queens trying to unify heretofore competitive fiefdoms so as to join them together to participate in a common vision. Lee Iacocca reported that the condition that nearly brought the Chrysler Corporation to ruin was competing constituencies within. While it is critical that leaders focuses forward and outward, failure to pay attention within may render their entire visionary acumen meaningless. Conversely, it is the skill of the leader in selling his/her vision that can unite competitors and turn efforts toward the future. Inability to inspire and unite, or the refusal of constituents to participate in your vision as leader while pursuing their own vision is to permit, perhaps even promote two (or more) visions. This is di-vision, the condition wherein attention and effort is incapable of focus. Division will destroy any company or organization. I address this very critical skill in my book “What You See is What You Get.” 
  6. Effective leaders think in terms of renewal. Managers, by virtue of their role and responsibilities, are like maintainers. They oil the machinery of organization and operation keeping its schedules and procedures running smoothly. They tend to become protective of those schedules and procedures and consequently resist change. Leaders understand the times and know that the times always change. History is cluttered with the bones of once glorious nations, companies, and organizations that simply failed to adapt to changing times. Renewal is not a fresh coat of paint. Renewal is to make new, not just makeover the old.

What differences have you noticed? What similarities do you see?

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