How Thin is the Line Between Management and Leadership?

The words "leadership" and "management" are often used interchangeably, but are these terms really equivalent?  Historically, there has been a clear line between the two, but as our society continues to forge ahead in an information-based economy, it might be argued they aren't as separate as they used to be.

Leaders and managers do not necessarily approach situations the same way, and there are still attributes that primarily apply to management and others specifically to leadership. However, in some cases a person will have to act in both roles in order to keep an organization running smoothly.

Managers facilitate, leaders envision.

Managers and leaders are both heavily involved with the nitty-gritty of day-to-day operations, but how they respond to situations can be a fundamental difference. Managers tend to be more reactive, whereas leaders lean toward being proactive. A manager will typically follow a designated plan and see it through to the end. Leaders often view things in a broader sense and look at both the options presented and those not yet envisioned. For instance, a leader will inspire and influence change to happen, but the manager will play a big role in seeing it through.

Leaders seek opportunity, managers focus on continuity.

Leaders are always looking to see if and how things can be made better. They try to foresee what the future might hold and explore new opportunities. Managers tend to focus on the tasks at hand and work toward getting these done - often this means using familiar tried-and-true processes. They tend to like to see concrete results whereas leaders possess more of an abstract perception. Leaders are consistently attempting to think outside the box, while managers are great at making improvements to the box.

Different guidance approaches.

Leaders typically designate members of their teams to handle tasks so they can place emphasis and focus on long-term vision. Through this delegation, they encourage and inspire others to follow them and share in building their vision. Teamwork is a key part of leadership; people play a huge role in how they plan and they often follow their leaders willingly down a path in order to see the vision come to fruition.

Traditionally, managers focus on planning and coordination. They like to keep things on track and organized and ensure processes run like clockwork. This doesn't necessarily mean micromanagement, they often do offer their employees autonomy, but seeing ongoing and tangible results is a priority.

Crossing the line from manager to leader.

How does a manager know when he or she has become a leader? In a piece published by the Harvard Business Review, Vineet Nayar lists three "tests:"

  • Counting value vs. creating value - Managers track productivity levels and focus on benchmarks; leaders delegate and encourage others to join them in creating value, striving to go beyond milestones.
  • Circles of influence vs. circles of power - When more people, especially those who are external to the organization, come to a person for advice, this is a good sign he or she is developing into a leader. This means he or she has successfully motivated, inspired and shared vision with other people.
  • Leading people vs. managing work - Managers lead people to accomplish a goal; leaders use "influence and inspiration" instead of power and control to get things accomplished.

However, despite the differences, in our knowledge-based society, the line between leadership and  management is often interwoven and the two can naturally complement one another. Managers sometimes have to act as leaders, they can't simply focus on  processes and structure, they need to concentrate on people too. And leaders often have to be involved with management if things are  going to get done.

In today's fast-paced world, are leaders and managers as easily separated as they were in decades past? Has the line blurred?  If so, what attributes can apply to both managers and leaders?

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