What’s the difference between a leader and a manager? The going consensus is that managers keep the work flowing and leaders inspire the work to be done in the first place. Managers manage work and leaders lead people. There are countless courses, seminars, conferences, and resources available for either avenue, but the truth is that that there is a great deal of overlap between managers and leaders and it is also not uncommon for them to be one in the same. It’s easy to measure management efforts, though, because they result in a tangible product or service.
If a company is poorly managed, it will fall apart. If a company has excellent management but poor leaders, there may be people around to pick up the slack. You can have one without the other, unfortunately. And, “good” management and “good” leadership is subjective. There is no going rate for leadership or what makes a manager good. We all have our own opinions on that. There are, however, some insights that can’t be ignored on either front. If your company isn’t paying attention to these leadership components, you’ll pay dearly with people, resources, and contribution.
Any good leader will tell you that they didn’t start out that way. We generally accept the notion that leaders are born while managers are made, but it’s simply not the case. People who start out leading companies or groups of people aren’t naturally good at this kind of thing. What makes them leadership material is that they ask for feedback and continue to keep the lines of communication open so that they can hear people out and make adjustments accordingly. Consider what a 360 degree feedback loop might look like. We all have the ability to listen and communicate with one another more often, but we choose not to. For one reason or another, humans are becoming more closed off from each other, but leaders are working to bring that communication back to center. They struggle at first, but always continue to try to engage others. They aren’t good at it right off the bat. It takes practice. If your company operates under closed-door policies, it’s time to open them up.
Leaders don’t just stand by idly waiting for a job to be done. Managers might, although, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone just standing around doing nothing these days. Most businesses are so short-changed that people at every level are pitching in to get the work done. Some managers who believe themselves to be above this all-hands-on-deck approach may have their feet up on the desk, but the leaders are pushing boxes and getting their hands dirty along with everyone else. If your company insists on separating the visionaries from the doers who bring that vision to life, you’re missing out on a real opportunity to get people invested in the work they are doing. Good leaders always get in there and offer help, whether it’s physical or mental support. It might feel awkward at first, but it’s worth the effort to connect and interact with people in a way that makes them feel like part of the team, and not just a cog in the wheel.
Leadership blurs the lines of accountability so that the fault is not landing with one division or level of operation. Managers are thought to be in charge of their own work, people and product, and if one person messes up, it is easy to single them out. Leadership approaches to work, on the other hand, have everyone coming together to discuss how to do things better next time, not necessarily focus on what went wrong or whose fault it was this time. Managers create corporate ladders and leaders helps to level the playing field. Yes, you can be both a manager and a leader, but the only way to tell the difference is to ensure that everyone is on board and accountable to one another, not just to the manager who is reporting to another manager, in another building, or city, or state or country even! Leadership is about what is going on right now and dealing with it in-house, in a way that makes sense for everyone involved. If your company is reporting up the chain, it might be time to start reporting amongst yourselves.
A manager’s purview of a company vision is relevant within their department only. Even when their department moves parts or products to another department, the buck usually stops with them when the product leaves the work area. Leadership, on the other hand, sees that product as a stepping stone toward the vision of the company overall. It’s not that your company makes plastic bottle caps – it’s that your company provides a service to the water bottle industry that ensures economical options for bottling water. That’s a vision. Leaders focus on that vision. The “how” usually falls into the laps of the managers, but when managers own that vision like it was their idea, leaders are born of those managers and even the most mundane products can become inspirational to a group of people inspired into action by a great leader.
The bottom line: it doesn’t matter what your leadership team or management team calls themselves, or what you call them for that matter. What matters is that you are digging into the roles and responsibilities to see how the vision translates, the accountability stacks up, the interaction of your employees is fueling the communication. Insights into these four areas of your operation will ensure that your company succeeds at creating a great place to work for everyone involved. That’s leadership.
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