Ever wonder about the difference between a leader and a manager? There’s a certain ‘you know it when you see it’ quality to both, and in truth both word connote skills and abilities that span organizational structures, vertically and horizontally.
Writers like Bennis (Becoming a Leader, 1989, and many others), and Daft (The Leadership Experience, and many others) create an aura of leaders as being “cool kids”, visionary, change agents, unbounded, curious, and so forth. Managers are painted as stodgy “steady Eddies” as best, planning, creating boundaries, enforcing rules, and squelching ideas. Intentional or not, the message is that it is better to be a leader than a manager.
But leadership without management, like strategy without execution, is pointless, and most successful managers have tremendous leadership skills, per many of the definitions out there. These days, I’d love to find someone who could confidently say “I am a really good manager. Give me anything and I’ll deliver, and motivate a team of people getting it done with me.” Lots of people seem to want to be anointed as a leader, but fewer people seem to want to put in the time and effort to be really good managers, or to take pride in that skill set.
I’d take a good solid manager and help them develop their leadership skills to work in support of their management discipline any day. But a leader who can’t be bothered with the basics or at least an appreciation of them…. I find that much harder to be around. I think it sometimes strikes me as a bit lazy. I don’t mean people have to always do all the administration that comes along with being a good manager – as you develop in your career, you start to delegate a lot of that, and start to LEAD people who are doing it and developing their own skills, which is a good thing. But to skip the step all together is a shame, because the best way to learn how to lead and devleop good management is to do it well, or at least competently, for a little while.