Are Leaders and Managers Different?

When I wrote the book The Mature Manager – Managing from the Inside Out the editor was irritated that I had not addressed the topic of leadership in the book, not to mind dedicating an entire chapter to it.  I responded by saying “Of course not, being a manager is very different to being a leader; for me the two roles are radically different.  What I would want to do is write a separate book on leadership.”

In my experience few managers are leaders and few leaders are managers.  That is not to say that the qualities for both roles cannot exist in one person, but the likelihood is low.  However there is a need for both managers and leaders in work organisations but they tend not to be comfortable bedfellows.  For example, leaders sometimes respond to mundane work as to an affliction.

In one way or another, managing is one of the world’s most common jobs and yet there is the disturbing fact that mediocre management is the norm.  There is a further distressing reality that most people leave their jobs because of their stressful experiences with managers and that at least 40 per cent of managers use a bullying style of management.

The reasons for this situation are that the demands on managers are virtually impossible to meet.  Managers are expected to have skills in finance, cost control, resource allocation, product development, marketing, manufacturing technology and a dozen other areas.  There are also demands on managers to possess such management strategies as persuasion, negotiation, problem-solving, writing and public speaking.  In many ways management is essentially a practical effort to get things done; and to fulfil his or her task, a manager needs to ensure that many people operate efficiently at different levels of status and responsibility.  It does not take creativity to be a manager but it does require persistence, endurance, hard work, a concrete intelligence, analytical ability and definitely and most importantly the ability to enhance relationship with and enrol the cooperation of staff members.  It would seem that we are still in the dark ages when it comes to training people how to behave like great managers.  There seems to be an organisational ethos that says that managers are not responsible for people’s happiness and that management is a series of mechanical responsibilities and not a set of human interactions.  But the only managers who are excellent at what they do are those who manage with humanity.

Leadership is different from management, but not for the reasons some people think.  Nor is leadership better than management or a replacement for is.  Rather, leadership and management are two distinct and complementary systems of action.   Each operates in very different ways which are mirrors of the respective interiorities of the leaders and managers and the ways they managed to get recognition when children. Leaders aim to be different; their creativity and their being different to others fuel their leadership.  Leaders may work in organisations but they never belong to them.  Their self-esteem does not depend on memberships of work or social systems, work roles or social status but it does rest on their unique talent and their ability to be creative and be innovators of change.  Talent is critical to continued progress in the market place and in the political field.  Yet most organisations persist in perpetuating the development of managers over leaders.  A hallmark of leadership is imagination; a hallmark of management is the ability to maintain order.  Leaders are restless individuals, like the butterfly that goes from flower to flower, whereas managers tend to be more like busy bees that exhaust one flower before considering another. Leaders have the potential to create chaos in an organisation unless there is good and effective management present.   Of course leaders are not without their vulnerabilities and they can often feel threatened by open challenges to their ideas, as though the source of their authority, rather than their creations, was an issue.  The word authority means authorship of self and when a leader confuses his sense of self with his creativity and innovations he lacks a possession of self and can become very threatened when his substitute way of getting recognition comes under what he would perceive as an attack.  Such leaders needs to reflect on their dependence on what lies outside them and work towards a creativity that stems from self-reliance rather than a reliance on their talent. 

In considering the development of leadership and management, it is necessary to start at the earliest possible time.  Each child in a family creates their own unique responses to the family dynamic and it can often be the case that one child goes down the road of the management of what happens in the family and the other goes the opposite direction of being the risk-taker and focussing on the development of a specific talent.  The former child can be supported and directed towards being the individual who can later on guide institutions and organisations and maintain the existing balance of social relations.  The latter child can be encouraged through personal mastery which will prepare him or her in their adult years to be the initiator of change and give direction in coping with change.  With careful selection, nurturing, support and encouragement many people can play important management or leadership roles in work, social and political systems.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Clinical Psychologist/Author and Director of several NUI courses.  For details contact Margaret 021 4642394.