If you ask the person in the street, they will probably tell you that a manager and a leader are the same thing. The truth is they are different, with both having different outcomes.
It’s a question I am often asked on new manager training courses or my Insights workshops. The truth is as we develop culturally and particularly within large organisations the boundaries between manager and leader skills blur with a new style manager/ leader emerging.
For those of you who have asked, below I have listed the fundamental differences between the two and the relative qualities.
Classically a manager manages ‘things’ in our context people and process. In military terms, it’s often quoted that a leader is responsible for strategy whilst a manager is responsible for tactics. Both have important roles to play in making a business successful, and in the modern world, it’s increasingly common to find these different roles played by one person.
A good manager is focused on efficiency and getting the business to run smoothly over the short and medium term. When working with a virtual team, a manager maintains a hierarchical position and distributes tasks, which team members deliver. Why? Because it is part of their job role. As human beings we don’t really want to rock the status quo and we do like to know what is expected of us.
A key functional role of a manager is to make sure that work is organised and carried out properly; in accordance with any specific protocols or frameworks, especially in a technically driven world. Their presence – if they’re doing the job well – means that employees always know where they stand and can follow a predictable routine.
A leader’s role is to make a team successful by inspiring and motivating its members. Leaders convey a sense of shared vision and direction in order to create loyalty. In a virtual environment, they can instil the kind of enthusiasm that leads to people giving their all even when there is no-one there looking over their shoulders.
Leaders focus on the big picture and on how things are likely to develop far into the future, and they engage with team members on a personal rather than hierarchical level. Where managers aim to keep things stable, leaders innovate.
Bringing management and leadership together
Thinking about these issues makes it clear that both management and leadership skills can be vitally important in making a business successful, especially in challenging times. This is perhaps never more the case than in a virtual team environment, where control is needed to make sure things don’t go awry but where team members need to feel passion for their work so that they maintain a sense of connection despite working remotely.
Being a good leader requires confidence, drive, energy and commitment. By contrast, being a good manager requires skills that can be learned, though it can require a bigger commitment to achieve this – leaders can often join a new team and excel at speed, whereas some managers need time to become good at their jobs in new environments.
Until next time