To build a successful organization, there needs to be a variety of people playing different roles in order for things to run smoothly. Some of these roles are easily defined while others may have more confusing boundaries, such as the difference between a manager and a leader. You can be a manager and a leader at the same time, but just because you’re a phenomenal leader doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a great manager, and vice-versa, so what’s the real difference?
In his book On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis writes about a few crucial differences between a leader and a manager. Here are some key differentiators from the book, as well as insights from Gene Wade, founder and CEO of UniversityNow, and late management guru Peter Drucker.
1. The leader innovates whereas the manager administers. This means that the leader is the one who comes up with new ideas and moves the rest of the organization into a forward-thinking phase. This person has to constantly keep his eyes on the horizon and develop new strategies and tactics. He needs to be knowledgeable about the latest trends, studies and skill sets.
« You got people who are just going to work instead of thinking about why they’re doing what they’re doing, and then you have the leaders, » Wade says.
On the other hand, a manager maintains what has already been established. This person has to keep her eye on the bottom line and maintain control or else there might be disorder within the organization.
In his book The Wall Street Journal Essential Guide to Management: Lasting Lessons from the Best Leadership Minds of Our Time, Alan Murray cites Drucker as saying that a manager is someone who « establishes appropriate targets and yardsticks, and analyzes, appraises and interprets performance. » Managers understand the people who work alongside them and know which person is the best person for specific tasks.
2. The leader inspires trust whereas the manager relies on control. Wade says that a leader is someone who inspires other people to be their best and knows how to appropriately set the tempo and pace for the rest of the group.
« Leadership is not what you do—it’s what others do in response to you, » he says. « If no one shows up at your march, then you’re not really a leader. »
And if people do decide to jump on board because you’ve inspired them, then it means that you have created a bond of trust within the company, which is essential especially if the business is rapidly changing and needs people to believe in its mission.
As for managers, Drucker wrote that their job is to maintain control over people by helping them develop their own assets and bringing out their greatest talents. To do this effectively, you have to know the people you are working with and understand their interests and passions.
The manager then « creates a team out of his people, through decisions on pay, placement, promotion and through his communications with the team. »
« Managing a project is one thing, empowering others is another thing, » Wade says.
3. The leader asks « what » and « why, » whereas the manager asks « how » and « when. » In order to ask « what » and « why, » you have to be able to question others why certain actions are occurring—and sometimes this involves challenging your superiors.
« This means that they’re able to stand up to upper management when they think something else needs to be done for the company, » Wade tells us. « I always tell my folks, ‘I don’t expect to be right all the time. I expect to be wrong a lot.' »
If your company experiences failure, a leader’s job is to come in and say, « What did we learn from this? » and « How do we use this information to clarify our goals or get better at it? »
Instead, managers don’t actually think about what the failure means, Wade says.
Their job is to ask « how » and « when » and to make sure they execute the plan accordingly. Drucker wrote that managers accept the status quo and are more like soldiers in the military. They know that orders and plans are crucial and their job is to keep their vision on the company’s current goals.
Although to the two roles may be similar, « The best managers are also leaders, » Wade says. « I think you can do both, but you have to take the time to cultivate it. »