Are you a leader or a manager?

The terms leader and manager are often used interchangeably. But are they the same? Most leadership experts say “no.”

In Leading Change, Harvard professor John P. Kotter explains the difference as follows: “Management is a set of processes that keep an organization functioning… The processes are about planning, budgeting, staffing, clarifying jobs, measuring performance, and problem-solving when results did not go to plan,” writes Kotter. (“Leadership, in contrast,) is about aligning people to the vision…(through) buy-in and communication, motivation and inspiration."

Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.
— Stephen Covey

To summarize, management is keeping things functioning in their current state, while leadership is about crafting and implementing a new vision.

Along these same lines, leadership consultant Warren Bennis composed a sizable list of distinctions between the role of the manager and the leader. Some of these differences are:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • 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 asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

According to Abraham Zaleznik, the late professor of leadership at Harvard Business School, these two styles emerge from the amount of structure on which people thrive. Managers, he wrote, embrace process, stability, and control. They instinctively try to resolve problems quickly, sometimes at the expense of appreciating their full significance and addressing them properly for the long haul. In contrast, Zaleznik saw in leaders a willingness to tolerate a lack of structure. They are prepared to keep answers and solutions in suspense, avoiding premature closure on important issues; this keeps them open to new possibilities and ways of thinking.

If you have taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a personality test, you may be familiar with the distinction that the test makes between those who prefer “judging” (J) or “perceiving” (P).

The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung developed these classifications in the early 1930s. Jung believed that all humans are born with a preference for one of two basic cognitive information-processing functions:

  1. A judging function: The ability to reflect upon information and to organize it in such a way as to understand it and to then make decisions.
  2. A perceiving function: The ability to gather, store and retrieve information by observing the world around them as well as their own memories and inner states.

Js (Judgers) typically align with our manager profile, preferring to get things decided quickly. In contrast, Ps (Perceivers) would rather stay open to new information and options than make a final decision, which is a key quality of leadership.

Statistics from the Myers and Briggs Foundation indicate that, when measured across the board, those who identify as “judging” are more common than those who generally “perceive” by a 54 percent to 46 percent margin. Folks in leadership and management positions combined to identify as J nearly 58 percent of the time, which means that most administrators tend to want to focus on the here and now and not rock their respective boats.

A leader’s behaviors are not necessarily bound by his or her type indicator. Js are certainly capable of taking a longer-term view on problems, but it requires more effort and perhaps more external assistance, such as from a coach, than Ps might require. In contrast, Ps may need extra assistance in managing the moment while they plan the future.

Leaders who understand their type preferences can more easily identify their strengths and potential weaknesses, develop self-awareness and emotional intelligence, and understand the impact of their behaviors on others.

This is not to suggest that we must replace all management with leadership. The two serve different, yet essential, purposes. In fact, most of us need to engage in both to ensure effective organizational function. The key for anyone in a leadership position is to be cognizant of when they are engaged in each aspect of their jobs and to aspire to be a leader first and foremost.

To again quote Kotter: “We need superb management. And we need more superb leadership. We need to be able to make our complex organizations reliable and efficient. We need them to jump into the future—the right future—at an accelerated pace, no matter the size of the changes required to make that happen."

It is through management that companies implement the ideas, actions, and processes that lead to success. Leaders, however, are the ones that first develop the plan and chart the course for success. They also inspire their teams to take the necessary actions to ensure that their visions are actualized. 

Want to help your team set clear targets and achieve success? Download a FREE Clear Targets Action Sheet HERE.