Oftentimes, the words “leader” and “manager” become synonymous with each other. This is perhaps explained by the fact that people expect the leader of any organization to be adept at managing it too. However, when talking about businesses, the distinction between a good leader and a good manager becomes very apparent.
So what is this difference and how do you recognize it? Read on to find out.
What makes a good leader?
A leader can make or break a business, task or team. They are people who, through inspiration and personality, drive other people forward toward a common goal in unison. A good leader isn’t someone who makes all the right decisions all the time, but rather someone who can consistently think about the future and keep the business moving forward. Leaders need to share their insights and empower their team to implement a vision of how the business can progress, even through tough times. Don’t forget there are leaders at every level; it’s not just those at the top who are leaders. Remember the idiom “cream always rises to the top.” Well, that is the mantra for a good leader.
In addition to a clear strategic vision, strong leadership involves inspiring those working for you. Guiding your employees is another crucial aspect of effective leadership. An efficient leader doesn’t need to be good at every role within the business. Realistically, leaders will never be skilled in everything they do. The key is to know that there will, however, always be other people who can. By recruiting those who can successfully do the job and inspiring them to be the best they can be, leaders can greatly elevate the business.
True leaders give their team the room to make their own decisions. When I served as an officer in the British Army, this was called mission command. The higher-ups gave us an end goal with some boundaries, and it was up to us to find our own way to that goal. As we got more experienced, those boundaries got looser but never so loose that the overall vision and mission were compromised. It is a mentality I employ to this day. The key to this success is to check and recheck understanding of the goal and that the people carrying out the tasks know they can ask for help, and, in turn, create their own mini visions for their teams to achieve the plan.
What makes a good manager?
While a leader has a strategic vision and sets goals for the business, team or even themselves, managers by their very definition manage and make sure stuff gets done. Managers, like leaders, are essential in any organization. We aren’t talking business titles here; we’re talking personalities. A great leader could be a manager by title. A manager’s personality is essential, but does have some flaws or nuances that need to be understood.
A moment ago, I mentioned that a true leader lets their team lead themselves. A manager is more likely to manage the whole process for their employees right down to what pen to use. (I’m being facetious here, but I have actually seen it.) They are more likely to tell — not sell — the situation. They need to think of all the answers when, in fact, the best answer could come from the most unthought-of place. That said, new employees, even under great leaders, will need to be managed, so to speak, until they settle in. When they do, they will have more ability to use their own initiative. With managers, that initiative can sometimes be stifled.
Sometimes, we all need to manage and control situations. I should know — I’m a control freak. I like to know everything that’s going on in a situation; but once I trust someone, then they are off to the races and that’s their path. Leaders encourage pushback from their team in an environment that garners trust through hearty communication. After all, the team is made up of specialists. The leader puts together all the pieces to make the corporate cake and it’s up to the leader to make decisions, even if it doesn’t include a team member’s suggestion. If the team buys into the vision, then no one has their nose out of joint.
A manager, meanwhile, may not check with the team to understand their current state of mind. Confidence in oneself plays a major driver in the difference between leader and manager. I’m not talking about ego or arrogance here, as those are horrible traits that should be checked at the gate. I’m saying that a leader has the confidence in themselves that, in turn, reflects on their team with the confidence that they’ll deliver. Leaders believe genuinely that a village is built by a team and not one person. A manager is typically more concerned with the task at hand and only that task.
As Dustin Moskovitz, CEO of Asana says, “Management is operational; it’s about setting priorities, evaluating priorities, hiring and firing decisions, compensation decisions, things like that. A leader is more of a coach, or even a spiritual guide.”
Let me be realistic: Every leader sometimes needs to be a manager as sometimes the role of a manager can be more effective at getting stuff done when in a pinch. The key to getting back to being a leader is ensuring the team understands the process and where they’re headed. A leader and a manager can be the same person, but switching mentalities when fulfilling a role is crucial.