Sunday, October 19, 2014

How Leaders Are Different Than Managers (Part I)

In coming in contact with students, professors, and business people, I am asked quite frequently what the difference is between managers and leaders. For many people that I talk to, it seems that they consider it to be a difference without a distinction. Inevitably, they wonder: is this focus on "leadership" just a fad, or a buzzword conjured up to sound more important than "management?"

The truth is that there are major differences between the two concepts of leadership and management, and this is not just some "fad" that has been created to sell more books (Kotter, 1990). Each of these important constructs represents distinct and unique roles that are vital to an organization. Without one (management), an organization would crumble under the weight of its own inefficiency; and without the other (leadership), the organization would eventually be crushed under the weight of the status quo. Both leadership and management represent qualities that are desperately needed for any organization to truly thrive. And, in many instances, individuals must learn to be both leaders and managers, utilizing the right dose of each depending on the unique demands of each circumstance (see e.g. Burns, 1978; Katz, 1955; Hersey & Blanchard, 1969).

So how should we look at these two concepts? This blog series will focus on this key issue, and will seek to provide a framework for looking at these two distinct, yet interrelated concepts.

While many authors have waxed eloquent on this topic, I believe that a simple analogy might provide a good framework for this discussion. To do this, I want you to think of a semi-trailer truck--one that is a part of a larger fleet of trucks, and is intended to carry an important load to a destination far away. For the manager of this truck, the most important thing is to make sure that this truck achieves its purpose as efficiently as possible. Thus, the manager creates a maintenance schedule to ensure that the truck is in tip-top shape; he seeks out drivers who are competent, experienced, and will do the job right; and he makes sure to create a dispatch system that lets the driver know exactly where to go, what roads to avoid, and what stops to make. In essence, the manager is there to ensure that all of the processes in place (e.g. the dispatch service, maintenance record-keeping, and job placement) are all as efficient as possible. 

On the other hand, the leader of the trucking company has a very different job. While he certainly cares about how each truck is functioning, and whether or not it gets to its destination on time and in good working order, these are not his primary focus. Instead, he is asking questions like: Based on the shifts in demographics that we can see coming in the future, what routes should we create to maximize our chances for success down the line? How can we improve our relationships with clients by not just getting their products there on time, but creating a mutually beneficial engagement process? How can we foster a better working relationship between the many ethnic groups that comprise our workforce and utilize the best of what each has to offer? How should we restructure our company in order to prepare for a catastrophic event such as a natural disaster, epidemic, or financial downturn? And how do we motivate our workers to think outside the box and create new ideas for making the company better? In essence, the job of the leader is influencing, connecting, equipping, and inspiring people for the purpose of achieving positive goals. 

As you can see from this analogy, both the manager and the leader are absolutely vital to the company. If the leader created a new trucking route, but didn't have a manager to implement the change, the results would be disastrous. And the "leader" will likewise have to don his "management" hat quite frequently in order to supervise the day-to-day operations of the company. As situations change, each executive in the company will have to use the right amount of each skill set--both leadership and management--as appropriate.

So based on this analysis, we are left with a simple definition of the difference between leadership and management: Managers are concerned primarily with managing processes and creating efficiency, while Leaders are concerned primarily with influencing, connecting, equipping and inspiring people to achieve positive end goals.

In the next segment of this series, we will break down this definition into its elements, and look at the factors that play a part in creating this important distinction.

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