Managers vs. Leaders

April 12, 2022

The terms manager and leader are often used interchangeably, however, they are two very different roles. Unfortunately, many businesses fail to prepare employees for a leadership track, instead, throwing them into management roles and wondering why they aren’t serving as better leaders.

Leadership requires skillset, but it also requires permission. The chain of command is a real thing, and not everyone feels comfortable speaking up or taking action to establish themselves as a leader.

So, what’s the difference between a manager and a leader? And how can organizations prepare managers to evolve into leaders?

Harvard Business School breaks down the difference in management and leadership in three ways:

  • Process vs Vision
    • Effective leadership is centered on a vision to guide change. Whereas managers set out to achieve organizational goals through implementing processes, such as budgeting, organizational structuring, and staffing, leaders are more intent on thinking ahead and capitalizing on opportunities.
  • Organizing vs Aligning
    • Managers pursue goals through coordinated actions and tactical processes, or tasks and activities that unfold over stages to reach a certain outcome. Leaders, on the other hand, are less focused on how to organize people to get work done and more on finding ways to align and influence them.
  • Position vs Quality
    • Manager is a title. It’s a role and set of responsibilities. Leadership is a quality that needs to be shaped. Through developing emotional intelligence and learning how to influence others, professionals of all levels can build greater self-awareness and understand how to bring out the best in themselves and others.

According to SHRM, “research indicates that both HR professionals and executives view leadership development as a major human capital challenge now and in the foreseeable future.”

Before creating a leadership development strategy, organizations must consider its goals, and understand skill gaps and barriers to success. Leadership development requires time and resources, so budget and plan accordingly!

SHRM encourages organizations to be aware of unconscious bias when selecting employees for leadership development and promotion, “Employees with significant potential may fall under the radar because they are much younger than the typical high-potential worker; may have been with the organization for a relatively short time; are in a job that gives them few opportunities to shine; or don’t ‘look the part’ because of factors like appearance, personality or communication style.”

Developing leaders can include the following:

  • Assessment of skills and qualities – what kind of leader might they be?
  • Coaching and mentorship – who would be a good fit to help guide someone as a leader and provide the appropriate feedback and direction needed to successfully grow as a leader?
  • Work experience and stretch assignments – effective leadership requires experience that must be learned by doing – give rising leaders the opportunity to demonstrate new skills and all they are learning from their coach or mentor
  • Encouragement – sometimes potential leaders can be hiding in plain sight; create a culture that encourages employees to proactively demonstrate leadership and provides a space for people to feel comfortable speaking up or requesting new opportunities

Recognizing the difference between a manager and a leader is the first step to developing a pipeline of emerging leaders. In some cases, an employee may be a leader ready to be unleashed, while others show potential, but need an intentional plan to develop the skills and capacity for leadership. Good managers aren’t always good leaders and vice versa so it is critical for organizations to determine what they need before putting together a leadership development strategy.

Contact us today to learn more about our modern approach to performance management and development that actually improves the manager and employee relationship. Don’t just take our word for it, see what our Customers have to say.