Managers vs. Leaders – it’s all about personality

Frequently I am faced with a questions that somehow boils down to a difference between a manager and a leader. Sometimes the question is asked of me and at times I ask others the same. This question can easily become a matter of semantics and a political landmine.

To me it boils down to one item – Managers do things right while leaders do right things.

When it comes down to it, the main difference between managers and leaders is the ability to innovate and come up with new methods of accomplishing tasks, or a technical approach that minimizes errors and increases productivity.  Both methods are great in their own right, but when recruiting new talent, you will want to be aware of the personality of the candidate.  Which fit is better for the position?  You would not want to put a new leader personality into a position that has a very concrete methodology in how they do things.  You also would not want to put a manager personality into a section that has been doing things a certain way and have become inefficient at it or failed to grow and adapt with new technologies and methods.

A manager will be able to develop systems and get missions done in the short term, but you will want a leader to develop new ways of approaching problems for long term solutions.  Leaders will also develop original methods to solve problems whereas a manager is more likely to imitate solutions found elsewhere.  Although a manager may be a typical “good employee” a leader will be their own person, and may not fit quite into the mold of what you thought you needed.  If you need new systems developed or are at least open to it, then a leader’s ability to develop will outshine a manager’s ability to maintain.

When a new leader joins a group or section, they are more able to inspire trust, challenge the status-quo, look toward the horizon to affect the long-term bottom line, and focus on people (both colleagues and customers).  A leader will ask what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and even why it needs to be done a certain way, while a manager will simply ask how and when, and then accomplish the mission.

Due to these differences, a manager may be less expensive upfront and they are more likely to quickly reach the levels required of them.  A leader may take longer to grab a footing, or for the changes they implement to really make a difference, but when the changes become apparent, they will be drastic changes that revolutionize the way that business is handled.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each personality type and your needs will vary as well.  When it comes down to it, managers are the ones that will organize “it”, while leaders decide what “it” is.

2 Responses to “Managers vs. Leaders – it’s all about personality”

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  1. Suman Kumar Luthra says:

    A Leader works with a “Compass” foremost, while the Manager works foremost with the ‘Clock”. Service oriented companies (outsourcing based business model) need more managers, while Product Companies and MNC captive R&D centers need the right balance between Leaders and Managers. We need people to execute and people to show the way forward and be courages to take the right decision.

    I really like your summary “Managers do things right while leaders do the right things”. It is really agonizing for an average software developer (soldier) when you expect leadership from a manager, or management from a leader. I work in India, and this tribe of managers who are good leaders or leaders who are good mangers is very rare breed.

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