Often, the words manager and leader are used interchangeably. It might be so because, in real world people have only one designation. For example, CEO, VP Marketing, CFO, Operations Head, and several common designations do not say anything about leadership or management. Individuals charged with responsibilities have to play both the roles. But some people tend to predominantly display characteristics of leaders or managers.
Let us start with the adjectives used to describe them. Leaders are described as great, strong, visionary, inspiring, creative, ….or on the negative side as destructive or weak. These adjectives are not used when we talk about managers. We refer to managers as efficient, quick, meticulous,…. and on the negative side as inefficient, bumbling, or confused.
Individuals have to act either as managers or leaders depending on the circumstances. But their inherent or default behaviors can be discerned. Those who are inherently managers usually have a narrow or blinkered vision. Managers will exclusively focus on their areas – competency, group, department, division, or company. This allows them to get after immediate tasks. Leaders, in their broad sweep of vision, take in longer value chains, non-obvious competition, and likely market destroyers. Having done, that leaders are much better in seeing things as they are in a brutally frank way. Managers are likely to see things in ways that will simplify their choices and defend their decisions. An operations manager may rationalize presence of excessive inventory to meet delivery targets. If the operations manager is a strong leader she will seek to find out how to bring flexibility and speed in operations so that lower inventory is enough.
Managers manage resources to produce planned outcomes. Leaders will mobilize resources for desired results. She, as a leader, will think a great deal in deciding what is desirable. For example, a production manager will use allowed tolerance bands to meet the targets, a person who has strong leadership traits might accept this as short term compromise but will soon put in place process improvements necessary to avoid such trade-offs in future.
Fall in line?
Managers, obsessed as they are about ‘running the show’ or ‘not rocking the boat’, stress on uniformity and conformance. Have you made the comparison of various vendors in the standard format? -they will ask. Managers will try and avoid ‘judgment’ to the extent possible. Leaders will go beyond. They will ask questions about the owners, their priorities, their commitments which may not fit into a standard format. Leaders will not hesitate to ‘judge’. They will stand by their choice. Managers would be content in proving that their decision making adhered to the approved procedure. If one of the team members has some special talent which can justify some re-organization of work, leaders will go ahead and do that. Managers will try and talk to the talented person and ask her to fall in line.
Managers work well within the existing framework if not in spirit but in letters. Leaders think about the ultimate accountability that comes by holding a job and will establish appropriate framework. Faced with budget limits for quality improvements, a leader will invoke the ‘higher’ values, argue her case by mentioning likelihood of a much larger loss of goodwill and revenue in future than the extra expenditure being proposed.
Managers will avoid conflict through trade-offs. They will find out what is possible and go about achieving it efficiently. Leaders will expand the zone of what is possible and choose from much larger sweepstakes. In the process, if there are conflicts they will not alter the goals just to avoid the conflicts. Managers bring efficiency in doing what is possible. Leaders bring effectiveness by going after what is desirable.
Motivate or inspire?
Managers reward people for work done. Leaders make the work rewarding by showing possibilities, extending horizons, and raising great visions. While going after the larger goals, leaders challenge themselves and their people to do what might be considered to be very difficult. Leaders use such situations to develop their people. Leaders invest their time in developing people through coaching. Managers invest company’s money to nominate people for training. Through all this, leaders inspire people, whereas managers try to ‘motivate’ people. Leaders are good in learning lessons from life and work and are even better at applying them to achieve worthwhile goals. They use their stories to develop their people into better leaders. Managers too learn their lessons but they may be content in using them to avoid trouble or to survive.
Good managers work hard. Great leaders are not content with hard work alone; they are obsessed about achieving more from less. They bring in change and regeneration. In order to sustain and thrive amidst change, organizations need leaders at different levels. CEO s need to plan for a leadership pipeline.