Updated: May 26
The debate of comparing managers and leaders is a long standing one. Some people use the terms interchangeably, but to others the definitions are drastically different. More often than not, “manager” is used to describe a workplace role or title, with a set of definite responsibilities and their success or failure is monitored in very quantitative ways. By comparison, “leaders” transcend roles and titles, existing all across an organization, and contribute value in very qualitative ways.
However, this I think most can agree upon – highly successful managers are also very strong leaders, and the traits in those individuals are an inseparable mixture of both the qualitative and quantitative that achieve excellent results and solutions. Typically it is a combination of art and science, as there is no one repeatable formula that you can manufacture in the lab to produce these outstanding manager/leaders. Nevertheless, they all have a set of common traits that influence their respective successes.
One Part Solid Manager – a dose of Tactical
Solid managers are good tacticians. There are a variety of terms we could use to describe managers – good corporate soldiers, administrators, and those that ensure that things are being done correctly to achieve results.
Managers focus on resources. This can range from processes, inventory, financials, and even human resources, but all of them from a quantitative perspective. Good managers are effective Planners, and leverage their resources to outline the activities and schedule needed to achieve a goal. They have controls in place to monitor performance, identify areas that fall outside of expectations, and implement measures for course correction. These typically fall into a few dimensions: Is our group over budget or not? Is our project behind schedule or not? Do we have the staff to support critical service levels or not? All of these topics are vital to a department or company, and successful organization have strong mangers who can track financials, milestones, and customer service performance. These allow us to ensure the short term success of the organization.
Two Parts Strong Leader – add doses of Vision and inspiration
Leaders, on the other hand, have an eye further down the road. Leadership helps establish a vision of what a team, department, or organization can be, help raise the bar, and inspire others to reach for it.
Leaders focus on people. Leaders look to innovate, and do so through a collaborative approach based upon respect for the effort that others can provide and builds mutual trust by creating opportunities to demonstrate their abilities and willingness to contribute. Organizations expand and grow due to leaders to challenge the current state, and serve as change agents to think of ways to do the things they do today even better tomorrow. Great leaders are guided by principles and ideals, and leverage a moral compass to ensure the right things get done. Many people consider these the “soft skills”, but ultimately are the qualitative aspects of this important mixture.
An Excellent Solution of Endless Possibilities
Now just imagine mixing the visionary and the tactical. Imagine having the ability to have a great idea, inspire others to want to contribute towards its success, and possessing the detailed skills to ensure everything necessary happened for the idea to be realized. Imagine having the organizational drive to delivered value to a company every day, yet be creative enough to continue to look for ways to transform existing processes and exceed expectations. Henry Ford is a great example of this potent mixture – as legend has it, American consumers at the time wanted “faster horses”, but Ford had a vision of how Americans could benefit if they had access to an automobile. But beyond that vision was Ford’s equally powerful attention to detail in mastering the benefits of mass production and the assembly line to actually produce cars that the average American could afford.
The compound that results when mixing solid management and strong leadership has endless potential. Within our respective companies, these are typically the rising stars of the organization, as they have gone above and beyond with a new product, service, or idea, and successfully implemented it. The most notable of these have actually gone on to create new companies, and even new industries. Their vision without the dose of firm management skills would likely be an unrealized idea. Conversely, managers without strong leadership and vision might have bred faster horses back in Henry Ford’s day. The compound that results from mixing management and leadership is the catalyst for revolutionary results.