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Manager Versus Leader

Manager versus Leader. Is there a difference between a manager and a leader? A very difficult task for most would be attempting to define or delineate the difference between a Manager and a Leader. I must admit that at one time, I too found myself perplexed at the notion that there was a difference. I often associated one with the other, or better said, believed that one was the other. Today of course, I know this is not the case. Due to an extensive amount of research on the topic, both in and outside of academia, I have a much stronger grasp on the difference. That being said, I must admit that in all of my research, I am most impressed with one man’s basic descriptions between the two. That man is Warren Bennis.

Warren Bennis wrote a book called “On Becoming a Leader”. For lack of better words, Bennis presented his case in a very blunt manner, which I was grateful for. His attempt to avoid bias was recognized and appreciated. His use of historical context was needed and his conversational writing made it an easy and enjoyable read.

Many of his points were extremely accurate and I must be honest in that his logic helped me better define the differences myself. Bennis actually provided a substantial list of differences that help paint the picture and help one visualize the differences being talked about.

A brief example and some of my favorites include, the manager administers; the leader innovates. The manager maintains; the leader develops. The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust. The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective. The manager imitates; the leader originates. The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it. The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing. (Bennis, 2009) In all, I would have to concur.

So what makes a good manager? A good manager would have to be someone who can follow instructions well and ensure the instructions are followed through with while maintaining the vision provided to them. On the other hand, a good leader would have the audacity to "Question with boldness even the existence of a god…" (Jefferson 1787) and create vision, innovate change, inspire and provide direction as the opportunities presented themselves.

A great example of a true manager would that of a former colleague of mine. He was by all definitions, a great manager. He listened well and he achieved the tasks provided to him in a timely manner. He often followed instructions to the letter and attempted to overachieve within the instructions provided. He relayed answers provided to him for problems as they arose. However, he feared (often vocally) finding unauthorized solutions to immediate or complex problems. He was also very reluctant to accept direction or advice from anyone other than his direct supervisor for as he often said “what if the boss doesn’t like that?” Due to this, he was rarely relied upon by colleagues and was rarely turned to (by anyone) for innovative ideas. Because of this, he had been in the same position for over 15 years and had watched leaders promote over him many times, often to his great disappointment and inner turmoil.

It’s funny to think that at one point I found managers and leaders to be one in the same. Today, I see more of a difference between managers and leaders than I do between night and day. So ponder whether you are one that simply follows instructions as provided, or one that creates the path to follow. Do you do things right, or do you do the right things? Of course, these are not just a questions regarding leadership in business, instead… they are questions regarding your overall character and apply in all aspects of life.


Resources for Manager Versus Leader:

Bennis, W. (2009). On becoming a leader. (4th ed.). Philidelphia: Perseus Books Group.

Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, 10 August 1787; Boyd, Julian P., Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, et al, eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950-. 33 vols.

David Robertson

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