Business literature is full of distinctions that some very smart people make between a manager and a leader:
- “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker
- “…Leaders are concerned with what things mean to people. Managers are concerned about how things get done.” – Abraham Zaleznik
- “Leaders are the architects…Managers are the builders.” – John Mariotti
- “Management is getting people to do what needs to be done. Leadership is getting people to want to do what needs to be done. Managers push. Leaders pull. Managers command. Leaders communicate.” – Warren Bennis
- “Management is coping with complexity; leadership is coping with change” – John P. Kotter
- “Leadership focuses on the creation of a common vision … Management is the design of work .. it’s about controlling.” – George Weathersby
- “Leadership has about it a kinesthetic feel, a sense of movement. Management is about ‘handling’ things, about maintaining order, about organization and control.” – Kouzes and Posner
- “Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.” – Stephen Covey
- “Management is nothing more than motivating other people.” – Lee Iacocca
- “A great leader has two key qualities. He knows where he wants to go; he’s able to persuade others to go with him.” – Ted Turner
- “A good manager is best when people barely know that he exists. Not so good when people obey and acclaim him. Worse when they despise him.” – Lao-Tzu
- “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” – Max DePree
- “The first duty of a manager is to translate vision into reality.” – Peter Drucker
But the bottom line is that the distinction between a manager and a leader is all semantics. No one hires you with the job title of Manager and then says, “Now don’t try leading — that’s not in your job description.” And no one hires you with the job title of Leader and then says, “Just focus on leading — managing isn’t something you should care about.” Let’s face it: All management jobs have a leadership component, and all leadership jobs have a management component. And frankly, it doesn’t really matter what you call it; what matters is that you get the job done.
Sure, higher-level management jobs and executive positions probably deal more with change than with maintaining the status quo. And lower-level management jobs often focus on fine-tuning a process that already exists. But that doesn’t mean that the jobs have to stay that way. A job is a blank slate, and it’s up to you to use what you’ve got to make things better for the business. If you’re hired to lead things in a new direction and you discover that the existing direction is plenty good enough, then by all means speak up and convince your organization that radical change isn’t necessary. And if you’re hired to just keep things running the way they are and you discover that the ways things are is in drastic need of a change, then it’s up to you to lead the organization in a different direction.
Job descriptions are guidelines — not rigid laws. What’s most important is to understand your constituency — to understand who your customer is and where your organization should be heading. All direction setting should be defined in terms of what’s best for that constituency, and it’s not enough for you to placidly accept what you’ve been told and follow orders in the face of huge amounts of evidence to the contrary.
Are you a manager or a leader? Yes! You’re both. And the sooner you realize that, the sooner you’ll focus on what’s important for your business and begin to put your resources to work to move things in the right direction.
Tom Peters said, “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, under any circumstances, accept an assignment as given Shred it, expand it, twist it, turn it, until you create something that you’re red-hot-coal passionate about.” I agree: don’t get caught up in semantics — just do what’s needed for your business.