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Leader vs. Manager: Reality or Myth?

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In business, one of the ongoing and endless discussions is the comparison between leaders and managers. A quick Google search shows over 155 million results on this topic, often contrasting what leaders can do versus what mangers can’t do.

Generally missing in all of these discussions is that companies recruit managers, not leaders. Interestingly, rarely does an organization have a position solely titled “leader”. Recruitment often focuses on the functional roles of an organization—the work, the organizing, the staffing, the controlling.

A leader is often defined as someone with a combination of expert knowledge and influence who is able to set direction, align people, motivate and inspire towards the achievement of common goals (Kotter, 2001).  In contrast, managers are responsible for overseeing a group of people and getting the work done, a more tactical and transactionnel role.  Jim Collins, in his book, Good to Great, defines a manager as someone with the ability to organize people and resources toward the efficient pursuit of goals and objectives. Peter Drucker, one of most respected names in business, defines it this way: “Leadership is doing the right things; management is doing things right.”

If the focus is on ‘doing’, then why do we continue to separate these two roles? Are they equivalent? Should both functions be expected by one person, not two?  Organizations need one person who are able to do both lead and manage, who can “do the right things the right way”. Let’s not engage in the age-old debate of manager versus leader. Instead, from an organizational- excellence perspective, let’s compare managers who can manage and lead successfully, versus those who cannot.

How, then, do we define and measure success?

The key to determining if a manager is successful or not, is based on the delivery of results, and measured as:

  1. Less-than-expected results
  2. Expected results
  3. Better-than-expected results

Accepting the status quo is not an option for any organization. Organizations need managers to always deliver better-than-expected results, with a focus on continuous improvement and excellence.

Results are driven by a set of actions known as performance, whether it is an individual performance or a group performance.  The achievement of results reflects the performance of the manager, linking to their influence on people; how they support continuous improvement; their resource-based decisions; and the implementation of policies and strategies that contribute to the success through their skills.

Managers should clearly understand their roles and how they link strategy to execution. They need to clearly define what it is they want to achieve, and identify the required skills needed to deliver better-than-expected results, and to sustain a competitive advantage.

From an organizational skills development perspective, there are key considerations: How do organizations and managers engage in self-assessment and define these skills and design opportunities for development? Does a ‘one size fits all” approach work?  Do coaching and mentoring play a role?

Ultimately, the core question is this: If companies are searching for, and recruiting, first-class managers, how are they developing them as the people to lead the organization to achieve high-performance standards?

Regardless if they are called leadership or management skills, they are essential in getting the job done.

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