Key Differences between Leaders and Managers


Inspiration from UCLA’s late legendary Coach John Wooden. How it’s possible for a mere care-taking manager to become a true leader.



Published reports in Google News are an eye-opener. If you Google “leadership crisis,” you’ll get thousands of search results for business and the public sector.

If you enter the key words, “management crisis,” you’ll probably see twice the results. These figures can vary, but you get the idea.

Further queries underscore the need for growth in many professionals, but there seems to be some confusion in understanding the difference between leadership and management — particularly, if a manager wants to aspire to leadership in management to enable an organization to become great.

To use a sports analogy, if you read the words of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, you’ll remember why he was widely known as a leader.

“Never mistake activity for achievement,” he once said.

Coaches aren’t always just coaches. Mr. Wooden wasn’t just a coach. He won games and inspired his players to better in every facet of their lives.

Therefore, it’s worth noting that leaders like him can manage and that managers can lead.

With effort, managers can also display leadership qualities. Conversely, leaders can definitely be good managers.

But countless news accounts show that some so-called leaders don’t manage and many managers don’t provide leadership.

So, my sense is that it’s important to develop a balance sheet – there are basic differences between the two.

In essence, here’s the salient distinction: It boils down to how professionals inspire their staffs and other stakeholders.

The goal here is to point out how a mere care-taking manager can become great to benefit the overall welfare of the organization.

… it’s important to develop a balance sheet – there are basic differences between the two.

Attributes of a leader:

1. Studies, and develops ideas and principles

2. Innovates

3. Resourceful and looks for solutions to problems

4. Empathetic with a focus on people

5. Inspires trust among stakeholders

6. Understands the big picture

7. Superior listening skills

8. Courageously challenges the state of affairs, and asks why and what can be improved

9. Looks for opportunities to develop strengths

10. Develops a following

Attributes of a manager:

1. Administrates

2. Accepts the status quo

3. Pragmatic in accepting trends and events, but goes no further

4. Focus is on control, structure and systems

5. Has a linear perspective – only follows what’s at the end of her/his nose

6. Asks a limited set of questions – just how or when?

7. Acts like a chameleon or imitator of other managers

8. Perceives threats

9. Minimizes weaknesses

10. Manages subordinates but has few, if any, devotees

Bottom-line: The salient distinction between leadership and management boils down to how professionals inspire their staffs and other stakeholders.

From the Coach’s Corner, here are leadership resource links:

Checklist — 10 Tips for Leadership in Business Profit — In the new economy – a former Great Recession that seems to linger and linger – a company will succeed if it’s a leader in generating capital. Unfortunately, this economy has become a zero sum game for many businesses. Why? They stay alive by taking market share from their competitors, not by innovating.

Leadership: How Leaders Employ 11 Strengths to Grow Businesses — Ascension to the C-suite doesn’t automatically qualify an executive as a leader. Leaders have 11 strengths that enable them to manage their companies for greater effectiveness and elasticity despite a fast-changing marketplace

18 Leadership Strategies to Earn Employee Respect — How to profit from good labor relations, and to leverage the perspective of employees – your company’s human capital.

10 Characteristics of a Successful CEO — These are not tactical considerations, but strategic skill sets that can be applied to any venture.

7 Tips for a Young Professional to Become a CEO — For a professional to jump to the senior-management level in the 21st century, it’s imperative to demonstrate seven core competencies. Consider them part of your personal branding for success. It starts with speaking the language of a chief executive officer, and understanding the big-picture needs of an organization to get to the top.

Home-Grown Succession Planning Helps Financial Performance — Companies that promote their chief executives from inside vis-à-vis recruiting from the outside have a much higher financial-success rate.

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” -John F. Kennedy


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Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry. 




Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.