Managers as Leaders

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Managers as leadersManagers are often seen as administrators, not leaders. It depends on how we define leadership. Here, the meaning of leadership = promoting new directions. It has nothing to do with being in a position of authority over others. Management means having responsibility for people and other resources with the goal of getting work done as efficiently as possible. The goal of the manager is to execute the directions promoted by the leader.

Managers do not differ from leaders based on their personalities or styles. Leaders are not just more lively, charismatic or larger than life managers. Any manager can lead by promoting new directions.

Managers can be as inpiring as leaders, but when they are wearing their managerial hat, hence aiming to get things done efficiently, they try to inspire employees to improve performance rather than move them to change direction as leaders do. Both leaders and managers can influence quietly or by example without being charismatic.

Quiet conviction can be as powerful as a cheerleader's enthusiasm. Management is only a role not a type of action. You can lead regardless of your position provided you promote new directions that are compelling to others.

To understand what managers do, it helps to focus on the function of management instead of managers as persons or role occupants. When we look at management as a function, it is easy to see that it is something everyone does every day. Whenever you set priorities, plan your day, manage your career or finances, you are managing yourself. There is nothing negative about management conceived in this manner. Therefore, managers shouldn't be seen as controlling or lacking in leadership ability simply by definition. This is just an old-fashioned bias against them that is totally unfounded.

Process vs Content Leadership

There are two fundamental organizational tasks:

  1. devising new directions.
  2. executing existing ones.

The former requires leadership, the latter management.

There are two types of new direction.

  1. doing something completely new - new products, services.
  2. doing the same thing only better - improving quality, efficiency, customer service.

The first type of new direction calls for content leadership. The second type is a mixture of leadership and management - process leadership. The process leader initiates change but only to improve how existing directions are executed. This is leadership with a managerial emphasis.

All three types - content leader, manager, process leader are differentiated by what they focus on. It has nothing to do with style or personality.

The first two have an undiluted focus while the latter combines the first two. Style and personality come into it only through the means used to influence followers. Quieter types set an example or express quiet conviction. Lively types make more noise but their style is not the differentiating factor between leading and managing.

Leaders influence changes in direction, managers motivate performance improvements. For example, a lively Sales Director might have the personality we associate with a conventional leader but if his/her focus is strictly performance improvement then this is just management no matter how powerfully persuasive is the Sales Director's style.

Some managers find it easier to devise improvements in how current directions are executed than to come up with fundamentally new directions. Similarly, some leaders do not have strong enough systems thinking, patience, detail orientation and organizational skills to improve existing processes.

For a manager to be a leader it is a matter of focusing on what can be changed to improve things. You lead whenever you initiate any change. That's the essence of leadership. How you influence people is the means not the substance of leadership.

See also: What's a manager? and What is Management?

For more unconventional thinking on leadership see our sister site LEAD2XL