Most organizations are vastly over-managed and desperately under-led. Stephen Covey
There’s a difference between a manager and a leader. One role is not more important than the other, they’re just different.
In his book On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis draws these distinctions:
- The manager administers; the leader innovates.
- The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
- The manager maintains; the leader develops.
- The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
- The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
- The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
- The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
- The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
- The manager imitates; the leader originates.
- The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
- The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
- The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.
[From: On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis, Basic Books, page 39-40.]
The cumulative effect of this list seems to denigrate managers and extol leaders. But in his book Learning to Lead, Bennis says:
“No organization can function successfully without both roles. The danger, however, is to confuse them, to fail to provide for both and to diminish the potential contribution of each. The difference may be summarized by viewing the activities of leaders as those of vision and judgment – in other words, effectiveness – verses the activities of managers that focus on mastering routines – in other words, efficiency.”
I prefer to use the term “leader” when referring to both roles; there are tactical leaders (managers) and strategic leaders.
Most leadership positions require a combination of both skill sets. In my current position at the church, I “lead” about 30% of the time and “manage” 70% of the time. I am aware of when I’m switching from one role to the other and I try to balance both roles.
Mastering the skills of management is a prerequisite for leading well. Good managers lean the fundamentals of how an organization works, which becomes helpful when crafting credible vision. The opposite approach—becoming a leader with no management skills or experience—usually produces a detached, oblivious leader.
To personalize this essay, respond to these issues.
- Do you agree that there’s a difference between a manager and a leader?
- Is it advantageous to be skilled at both?
- Are you a better manager or a better leader?
- Does your current position require you to manage or a lead?
- Identify a position in your organization that primarily requires management skills.
- Identify a position in your organization that primarily requires leadership skills.
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