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Managers vs Leaders


I am about 30 years away from retirement (what Millennial isn’t counting!?). I've reported to many team captains, supervisors and directors. So, I can say with absolute certainty there is a difference between managing and leading.

Over the years, my boss experiences ranged from timid and complacent to aloof and thankless to overly sensitive and narcissistic. Despite the colorful personalities I encountered, I’m thankful I didn't miss any learning opportunities.

It's likely that some of my thoughts below can be found in one leadership book or another. Nevertheless, this is purely my perspective based on 20 years in the workforce.

Characteristics & functionality My favorite term for managers (and directors) is “spreadsheet watchers.” Managers are generally numbers-driven, data-focused, and results-oriented. They tend to view the responsibilities of their team from a macro level. They seek to motivate subordinates in ways that will help them hit company and departmental goals. To ensure desired outcomes, they implement programs that are thoroughly tested and approved by consultants. They calculate risks and stretch workers to their optimum capacity. Since managers are more technical and revenue minded, there’s usually something mathematical or scientific behind their methods of improving job performance.

Leaders are also results driven but they often consider the psychological and emotional aspects of managing people. They tend to invest in interpersonal communication as a means of helping their team hit organizational goals. Leaders are willing to take experimental risks rather than relying solely on data and proven methods. They're able to achieve the same outcomes as managers by focusing on the micro level. They seek to discover the individual strengths of each team member and assign projects and roles based on those strengths. Leaders use philosophical or relational methods to improve job performance.

I see the distinction. Do you?

Know your role It's possible to be an effective leader without being a manager, but I believe it’s impossible to be an effective manager when leadership capabilities are lacking. Good leaders know it’s not always appropriate to focus on interpersonal activities when critical goals are going unmet. Exceptional managers know it’s never appropriate to neglect or sacrifice an employee’s mental, emotional or physical well-being for the sake of monetary gains. Of course, balance is key as both elements are needed for an organization to run successfully.

Ideally, we all want our bosses to flow effortlessly between managing and leading. We want them to care about the technical and the human side of the business; watch the numbers so we all stay employed but also watch how we function and listen when we speak. Both have to do more than brainstorm and ask questions – they have to be willing to act. Managers must make decisions that benefit the team as a whole while leaders must make decisions that deal with individuals.

A manager knows company goals, a leader knows how the people in the organization can help hit those goals. Managers carefully monitor activities that affect the bottom line. Leaders guide individuals to perform cohesively, which, in turn, affects the bottom line. Managers find ways to remind their people of the company's mission and vision. Leaders can effectively persuade their people to adopt that mission and vision as a personal standard of integrity. Managers enforce the rules. Leaders disrupt the status quo.

Serving needs to make a comeback Unfortunately, in just about every business, the Corporate American model is the dominant organizational structure. From “revolving door” entry-level positions to shoddy training methods (or no training) to crony-based hiring and promotional practices - most workplaces are run-through with corruption ranging from mild to severe. Christian organizations and non-profits aren’t much different.

Servant leadership is a popular term that may be losing much of its meaning. It's a concept of self-sacrificing leadership that stretches beyond the workplace into churches, family structures, and other relationships. Managers should seek to be servant leaders, putting their team ahead of themselves, demonstrating their capacity to care for others, creating partnerships with their subordinates. There is no catch-all motivational method for any group of people and it's impossible to please everyone.

Managers and leaders don't rise to their current positions without undergoing some form of constructive criticism. And those who practice self-awareness will be the most effective influencers. Even if one believes they are the best manager or leader in the company, they will always need and should actively seek professional development throughout their career.

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