William Arruda, writing for Forbes online, says, “When you are promoted into a role where you are managing people, you don’t automatically become a leader.”
Managers and leaders are both essential to a company, but they play very different roles. Managers work with what is; they understand the goals of their team, their assets, their constraints, and their timeline. They manage these factors to maximize efficiency in achieving goals. Vineet Nayar, writing for Harvard Business Review, says “Managers count value; leaders create value.”
Leaders work on what could be. Their job is to look into the future, to imagine what could be possible. Whether they’re starting a company, building new products or services, or turning around a troubled organization, they must understand what needs to happen and articulate that vision. Their job is to get others (investors, creators, and staff) to see what they see, believe, and eventually, follow the vision.
William Arruda says that a manager’s job is to make the status quo more efficient. A leader’s job is to disrupt the status quo. My favorite quote about leadership comes from Stephen Covey: “The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, 'Wrong jungle!' ... Busy, efficient producers and managers often respond ... 'Shut up! We’re making progress!”
Managers often fear failure; their job is to make sure the company or team succeeds. Leaders, he says, can – and should – fail at times. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying enough new things.
Arruda says fundamentally, leaders are in the business of building relationships. “Leaders focus on people – all the stakeholders they need to influence in order to realize their vision. They know who their stakeholders are and spend most of their time with them. … Managers focus on the structures necessary to set and achieve goals. They focus on the analytical and ensure systems are in place to attain desired outcomes. They work with individuals and their goals and objectives.”
Another essential difference between managers and leaders is that managers have employees, and leaders have followers. Leaders influence people throughout the organization, even if they don’t directly report to them. You can find managers at the top of companies, and leaders among the ranks. You’ll recognize leaders because they often cross org chart lines. They’ll have relationships throughout the organization and influence beyond their own team or job description. Author Bryan Tracy once said you should aspire to “become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.”
If you’re a manager who aspires to leadership, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Managers often feel they need to fit in; often leaders are strong – even difficult personalities. (Think Steve Jobs.) But eccentric isn’t synonymous with cruel. After reading Walter Isaacson’s brilliant biography of Jobs, I thought to myself: If you’re going to behave like that, you’d better be sure you’re a genius. Otherwise, you’re just an *sshat.
I want to reiterate that every company needs both strong managers and strong leaders. We’ll let Peter Drucker have the last word on the difference: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” You’ll need both to succeed.