Manager or Leader: Who do you want to be?

Manager, leader, what’s the difference and why should we care?

If you Google the answer to what is the difference between a leader and manager, you’ll see some interesting results. Same with searching about a boss and leader, which is way worse.

And I say worse because there are so many ideas that managers are somehow lacking compared to leaders.  That leaders are awesome, and managers can suck.

Which is of course a ridiculous notion.  Because being a manager is a role, a job, and a difficult one at that!  I don’t see how it serves us to compare and contrast in a way that leaves managers feeling in any way inadequate, especially because leading is one of their primary roles.

The definition that I’ve used in business classes is that a manager is responsible for 4 primary functions:  to plan, organize, lead and control in an efficient and effective manner.

So, if you do those functions either with people or projects, then you are a manager.  And here are some amazing statistics about how people feel about this role:

  •  10% of managers say they’re prepared, trained and qualified to lead
  • 48% of first-time managers fail
  • 68% confess they really don’t like being managers

Fundamentals of Management, Robbins, DeCenzo & Coulter, 2015

 Those are statistics about managers.

But what makes one a leader?  This is complex area.  There have been endless theories researched, developed and communicated over time.  Exploring this area is helpful.  Because it’s a benchmark in which we can compare ourselves to understand or know if we are capable of or delivering to this level of standard or performance.

But it’s also confusing because there are 2,870,000,000 (billion 870 million) search results on Google today when you search leadership.

Where do we start?  I think of leaders as those who generate followers.  That can be followers due to the role, like I have direct reports.  Or those that we follow out of reference, vision, purpose, charisma, expertise, or that special something that draws us to others, that we simply want to go where they go.  We know it will be an experience.

So, you can lead without managing but it’s important to lead if you are a manager.  And some are better than others.

Because most people are promoted based on their expertise or their tenure, not by their capability or skill set to lead.  (Back to those statistics.)  And if we don’t know how, how can we show up as our best selves?

We don’t know what we don’t know.  Until we know better.  So, we learn to deliberately learn to manage and lead.

What are the top ways to accomplish this goal?

  • Seek out training
  • Find a mentor:  someone experienced who will give you guidance
  • Get a coach:  someone who will give you feedback on what you are doing effectively and what you need to change
  • Go to online learning:  classes or a community to access best practices, methods, tools and skills
  • Go to school, though my MBA did prepare me about leading business, it did not prepare me to be a leader (esp. of people)
  • Do it yourself through reading, being a student of others—find role models and those that inspire you
  • Learn on the job:  you’ll discover what works and what does not (though this is time consuming and sometimes painful)

It’s important to choose.  Be deliberate.

In planting a few seeds, here are some thoughts:

  1. Start with your strengths.  Know them.  4 functions of managing are to: plan, organize, lead and control (i.e., measure); what are you good at?
  2. Uncover your development areas about being a manager.  Or if you want to be considered a leader, what do you need to hone so that others will follow you?
  3. Then actively strengthen those areas; be focused; give yourself a timeframe.  Ask someone to hold you accountable.
  4. Know that to be a leader, you will be a continuous learner, be a lifelong learner.

Because if you manage people, your people will talk about you.  Think about what you want them to say.  How you’d like them to describe you.  And then focus on those areas.  On purpose.

After all, that is why I named my company intentional leaders.  Because I think both managing and leading should be deliberate.  That we know where we’re going.  And we get there through clear purpose, intentions and actions.

So, who do you want to be?