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To lead or to manage?


Leader/managerLeonard Wolff examines the roles of leaders and managers, and why it's a challenge to be good at either job.

In today's world, the terms 'manager' and 'leader' are often confused as one and the same. But, is a leader a manager? Is a manager a leader? Was Einstein a leader, a manager, neither or both? How about Ronald Reagan?

There are many characteristics and traits that are similar for managers and leaders. While the distinction may be blurred, there are also some that set the two apart. Generally, supervisors want to be managers, and managers strive to be looked upon as leaders. This article doesn't distinguish between supervisors and managers, as the difference between the two is the size of the slice of pie for which each is responsible.

"Leaders … have a vision. In difficult situations they take charge, make decisions, and follow through regardless of the rewards or consequences of their actions."

Before there is a leader there has to be a follower. Given this, it makes sense that leaders are responsible for getting performance out of people, either good or bad. So, what is a leader? How does one become one? Are they born? Is being a leader taught early in life? Think back to primary school. All of us were naturally drawn to someone, or perhaps others were drawn to you. What was the attraction – charisma, selflessness or an ability to take charge? Or perhaps there was a certain level of confidence exuded and demonstrated by a classmate. Was this person considered a hero, a leader to his classmates?

Do leaders emerge?
How about the idea that leaders emerge, motivated by a purpose or a goal and usually driven by a circumstance? They are focused, have the ability to determine importance, tend to think big, and draw upon past experience. Opportunities are recognised and seized upon.

Leaders get to the point with the ability to encourage others to follow. They have a vision. In difficult situations they take charge, make decisions, and follow through regardless of the rewards or consequences of their actions. Leaders don't just accept their fate or rest on their accomplishments, but rather they seek to grow both personally and professionally.

Managers have many similarities to leaders. They have to inter-relate, motivate, and influence others. Managers, like leaders, have to communicate effectively, listen, prioritise and be a problem solver.

Managers take charge
Managers can take a problem, simplify it, develop a strategy and solution and take charge. They provide resources and serve a role as an enabler. It is the responsibility of a manager to implement the visions set forth by leaders.

Typically managers have an area of expertise, a core competency. Through time and experience they learn how to plan, delegate, and evaluate. As planners they learn how to take projects, prioritise and focus on results. Managers learn delegation, team building, and determine the degree to which to get involved with details. They learn how to evaluate results and apply the knowledge to other projects.

"Leaders take the training to heart, incorporate the subtleties into their inner core, and internalise. Successful leaders take their learning beyond the tools that are taught."

Overlapping responsibilities for leaders and managers contribute to the blurring of lines between the two, such as dealing with personnel decisions, profit/loss, training, safety, and customer relations. Both have had varying degrees of training and experience that provide them with various tools with which to manage effectively. Leaders address these strategically. Managers tend to deal from the front lines.

Leaders & managers - same difference?
Leaders and managers have many interchangeable commonalities. What distinguishes a leader is the ability to look past the present and focus on the future. While concerned with achieving short-term success, leaders are consumed by a vision of where to take a company, department or team - with a view toward the long term.

Leaders exude and instil confidence, inspire in an aura of sincerity. They have a passion about a cause, but don't need to put on the display of a cheerleader. When in error, they take accountability and learn from the mistake, rather than point blame elsewhere. Leaders are those to which many aspire.

Managers are the facilitators between the visions set forth by leaders and those that actually make things happen. Managers are the jugglers, they are organised, and have the ability to marshal resources to achieve an outcome through the authority vested in them.

Rising through the ranks
Leaders are typically appointed from within management ranks. Without the correct skills, attitude and behaviour, their appointment can be doomed to failure. Training and experience can contribute to successfully placing someone in a leadership role, but without the respect of their followers, the result is a combination of limited success, frustration and ultimately termination. Leaders take the training to heart, incorporate the subtleties into their inner core, and internalise. Successful leaders take their learning beyond the tools that are taught.

So, ultimately is a manager a leader? Is a leader a manager? To quote Mark Sandborn: "Managers try to be heroes; leaders try to make heroes." And, Martin Luther King, Jr: "The ultimate measure of a leader is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at time of challenge and controversy."

Finally, from an unknown source, "Managers are expected to do things right, leaders are expected to do the right things." Ultimately, however, the two are closely related because without effective leadership, it is a challenge to have effective management and vice-a-versa.

Leonard Wolff is a principal advisor with a major mining company with over 25 years of experience in the engineering and management of various mining operations in the United States.

Read Bob Selden's feature: Take your corners please: Management v leadership, who wins?


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