Leader and Manager - What’s The Difference?

Most people seem to have pretty clear ideas about the differences between leaders and managers, and also about which of these terms has more prestige. Just ask yourself, would you rather be seen by your colleagues as a great leader or an effective manager?

Most people seem to have pretty clear ideas about the differences between leaders and managers, and also about which of these terms has more prestige. Just ask yourself, would you rather be seen by your colleagues as a great leader or an effective manager?

My guess is that you want to be great leader. Well, there’s a bit of kicker to that, because the truth is that all the really great leaders have also been effective managers.

We tend to associate leadership and management with business, but most of the research on them has actually been funded by military organisations. This makes sense because if the leadership and management of your company is not very good you might lose your business, but if the management and leadership of your army is not very good you might lose your country. This research has shown that leadership is a skill and that management is a discipline. This means that whether or not you are good leader or manager now, you can choose to learn how to be good at both by developing the necessary skills for leadership and learning how to apply the rules of management.

The evidence shows that good leaders have the ‘vision thing’ and that they are able to give people a clear picture of an overall goal or destination. Leaders inspire people by showing them how and why a particular goal is important and they use the principals of social psychology to give people meaning and purpose to do whatever it takes to reach the destination.

Leaders may set the vision, but no matter how inspirational or transformational leadership may be, on its own leadership is not enough to complete the journey – it is managers that actually get the people there. It may surprise you that the word ‘manager’ has nothing to do with the gender of the person who is managing, it comes from the Latin manus which means hand. So the manager is the hand that guides the group, the hand that steers people through each stage of the bigger journey by breaking down the journey into small and achievable steps. The manager establishes a team and shows the people in the team what tasks they must do now. The manager organizes the team and its resources so that everybody is able to complete those tasks as efficiently as possible. Then the manager is the hand that guides the team when they come across problems or things they don’t understand.

So, Leaders inspire people with a big picture or a long-term strategy, from the Ancient Greek stratagema which translates as the moves of generals. Managers show people the immediate tactics, from the Greek tactica meaning the art of small moves, that need to be completed to reach the final objective.

These differences mean that leaders and managers complement each other. Leaders attract individual followers, managers structure people into teams. Leaders create social cohesion, a sense that everybody is working together, whereas managers give people specific responsibilities and performance targets. Leaders provide the energy to motivate groups, managers maintain momentum by solving immediate problems. Leaders acquire authority because of their passion and capacity to influence other people, and managers are given authority because of their position within an organization and their role to hire, discipline and promote others.

Many people assume that to achieve career success means working up the ladder of management to get to a senior position and become a leader. This is not true. The most successful people combine leadership and management, and in any successful organisation managers and leaders are found at all levels. A good example can be found in some research I recently conducted with my colleague Dr Eliza Berezina to see how we could reduce electricity consumption in a large company. We asked the people working in an administrative department how they would reduce electricity consumption. Very quickly people passionate about sustainability began to take leadership and inspired their colleagues with a vision to reduce electricity usage. Then some of the people in the department worked out some practical steps to cut power use and managed their colleagues to achieve the vision. The department’s electricity consumption went down by 20%, and was still going down when we stopped measuring. So it was social leaders who inspired their colleagues with a vision and it was informal managers who organised the day-to-day energy saving processes that ultimately cut carbon emissions more than we could have expected.

Hopefully this small example has shown how combining the skills of leadership and the discipline of management can achieve amazing results. So, if you want to be successful, no matter where you are in your current career, start thinking about how you can lead and inspire the people around you, and how you can help to organize and guide them towards achieving the vision.

Professor Hew Gill
Chancellery Office
Email: hewg@sunway.edu.my

 

This article was published in Business Today