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Manager or Leader: What is the difference anyway?

by Ros Cardinal on February 11, 2013

When I got my first management job as a team leader, I won it on the strength of my technical skills. I knew what I was doing and how to get it done. I was confident in starting the new role – I knew what tasks had to get done, how to get it organised and I had no problems telling people what to do. In short, I was over confident and liked being in control, maybe a little bit too much.

I was promoted quickly to a middle level manager.  Mind you, this was in the late 80’s when it was all about managing the resources and people were considered a resource. I set targets, managed performances and got stuff done.  I think I may have even inspired my team sometimes, but more by accident than design. I was competitive and surrounded myself with competitive people. My team performed better than other teams and I got a personal kick out of being moved to a lower performing team to ‘get them into shape’.  I thought I was a good manager, but I was not a leader.

Then I had a break from work for 6 years to have a family. When I went back to work in a new city, I found things had changed a little. People were talking about leadership, employee engagement and culture. I was lucky enough to work for a business that embraced the concept of leadership and I worked with some great leaders and mentors who helped me on the learning journey. And it was a steep learning curve.

So what did I learn?

Management and leadership are both crucial to organisational success. They are different (but not mutually exclusive). Management is about getting things done, managing resources, structure and operations, making the business successful. Leadership is about setting the vision and direction, engaging, creating change, shared focus and renewal.

A person can be both a good manager and a good leader, but not all managers are leaders.

Stephen Covey has a good definition: “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success, Leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall”.

Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success, Leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall

I learned that management is about competence and leadership is about behaviour – your own, your team and your organisation. Managers manage resources and leaders manage behaviours; the behaviour of the leader creates team and organisational behaviour that can be effective, or not.

Management can be about power, hierarchy and task. In true leadership there is the absence of power. People follow a leader because they want to. A leader gives people the space to learn, make mistakes, and become better people.

A leader gives people the space to learn, make mistakes, and become better people

I read it described like this: Think of building a ship. A manager will organise, assign tasks, purchase materials and make sure people are building.  A leader inspires people to want to take to the sea on an adventure.

Rosalind Cardinal is the Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, a Hobart based consultancy, specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations.

Ros is a solutions and results oriented facilitator and coach, with a career in the Human Resources and Organisational Development field spanning more than 20 years.  Ros brings an energetic and proactive approach combined with a wealth of knowledge and experience. Her expertise spans leadership development, organisational culture, team building, change and transition management, organisational behaviour, employee engagement and motivation, strategic direction and management.

 Top image: Victor1558

Ros Cardinal
Rosalind Cardinal is the Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, a Hobart based consultancy, specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations. Hobart, Tasmania.
 
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