Are You a Manager or a Leader? How to Know, How to Evolve
Leaders are change agents. Like managers, they need the emotional intelligence to connect and empower people, but it's leaders who focus the team on the bigger picture and priorities
The terms “leader” and “manager” are sometimes used interchangeably. While managers have a leadership dimension to their roles, and leaders have to be versed in some management details to do their work well, it’s overly simplistic to use the terms as synonyms. The work is simply different.
Managers need to be great at execution, effectively delegating tasks, meeting deadlines and delivering results. Leaders, on the other hand, cultivate a vision and strategy that inspires their team to go above and beyond. Leadership says: “This is our strategy,” while management says: “This is our timeline for achieving that strategy, along with action items for each team member who plays a part.”
Leaders are change agents. Like managers, they need the emotional intelligence to connect and empower people, but it’s leaders who focus the team on the bigger picture and priorities.
Leadership requires a thoughtful perspective and plan for the future. When you are a leader, you develop the vision that your team executes. You are the engine that drives the people and relationships that create culture. You identify, attract, hire and promote the talent that keeps your organization moving forward. You structure teams, identify gaps and opportunities, and empower emerging leaders to evolve.
There are many nuances that differentiate the roles of managers and leaders. These are some characteristics to help as you contemplate how to grow.
The primary distinction between a manager and a leader is that you don’t have to directly manage others to be a leader. Authentic leaders’ impact doesn’t come from a job title, authority or direct reports. Great leaders influence others by believing in them, empowering them to do meaningful work that maps to their core strengths, and challenging them to stretch in new areas. Great leaders help others to recognize and develop their own skill, strength and leadership capacity.
Having the insight and passion to do this work evolves over time, as leaders refine their approach, values and leadership philosophy. Leaders use that philosophy to drive their work as culture builders. Great leaders listen and learn. They build a culture around an awareness of their team members’ values.
Stellar leaders inspire others, through communication and through their actions. Leaders not only manage but coach others to solve problems, take on challenges and see opportunity in each problem, by continuing to bring the team back to the big-picture goals. Leaders make others feel heard and valued; as a result, others gravitate towards them. Employees feel confident they will grow in the company of stellar leaders which energizes them to do their best work and to evolve professionally.
Managers focus on performance, planning, processes, policies and conflict resolution. They evaluate employees, delegate tasks and set priorities. The objective they need to accomplish on a given day dictates which role they will enact: coach, mentor, teacher, administrator, super-user. Managers become generalists by leveraging the various approaches of expertise that the situation demands.
Additionally, managers assume a leadership role when it’s warranted. It’s a hat they wear, a component of their jobs. Engaging in various management work refines the competencies that leadership requires. It enables future leaders to build their awareness of the different factors that inform leadership decisions.
Managers master the day-to-day activities in which their team engages. They are deeply versed in the details of that work and offer advice about those operations and how they might be improved and streamlined.
Managers monitor the results their team members deliver. Like leaders, managers have a hand in the work of culture-shaping, although sculpting team culture is different than shaping corporate culture. Generally, much of the framework is in place, and managers reinforce it through daily efforts like communicating goals and expectations and holding employees accountable for adhering to standards.
Great managers are savvy communicators. Theirs is a delicate mindset that requires being both decisive and non-judgemental. Another challenge they regularly face is taking and managing strategic risks. When their efforts pay off they deliver exceptional results with lasting impact, which prepares them for the rigours of leadership work.
Growing Into Your Leadership Self
Both leaders and managers create focus and structure. A key component of being a good manager is to recognize the big picture leaders have laid out, understand the strategy, refine it tactically and make it actionable. Great managers create best practices, which position their team to succeed when they encounter challenges.
Leaders do fundamental work, creating the basic elements of culture. They foster cultures that strengthen the process of building, refining, collaborating, inviting feedback to inspire continued growth.
Exceptional leaders champion the strength that others bring to their work. Great leaders mentor them, inspiring them to engage and strengthen their skills, better positioning them to solve problems, first by growing their management skills and then by refining their leadership abilities. This creates a productive and vibrant culture, where innovation can thrive. This doesn’t happen by accident. It’s manufactured by a leader’s vision, a manager’s logistical expertise, and a team’s efforts.
Wherever you are on the continuum, growing into your leadership self means recognizing the vital role you play and the value that you bring to the team.
Tammy is the Chief People Officer of PMI Worldwide, where she leads Human Resources for PMI’s family of brands including Stanley and Aladdin. Prior to joining PMI, Tammy worked with major brands and startups including Amazon, Microsoft and Fjuri – leading HR and talent acquisition during periods of high growth and transformation.