It’s so often discussed, the Manager v Leader narrative. And for good reason––it is super important we clarify these titles. Both are as valuable as each other and both have their place within a company.

But, let me just be frank when I heed this warning; get the title wrong for the wrong person and situation it functions, and you’ll be screwed. People with the wrong titles in these roles can cause major differences (and damaging effects) in the way the roles play out––and eventually effect your entire company’s culture.

So manager or leader; let’s get it straight.

Manager and Leader, what the heck is the difference?

I could start and finish this post with one sentence and be done with it.

THINGS are managed, and PEOPLE are lead.

That’s about the extent of it.

To better understand this statement, a brief history lesson. Let’s go back to the early years of the Industrial revolution…

The Industrial Revolution gave us lots of factories––places of production based on wage labour and fixed capital. With the factoriesa new class of workers were created. No longer did people need a particular skill to have a job, they basically just needed to show up.

Of course with this new workforce came new systems and with the new systems came new roles for people to manage the systems. And that went part in parcel of managing the people who worked within the systems. Welcome, Managers.

There wasn’t a lot connection to the work in these factories––or the workers for that matter, so as long as a manager could manage all the things, and that meant managing the workers in the same way they managed the budget––incomings and outgoings must balance, basically––then they got the job.

Unfortunately this system filtered into all manner of industries as the years went on and pretty soon the corporate world ran kinda like factories.

Yeah, well it doesn’t work anymore. It’s been proven time and time again how little it works to manage people in this era of complex workplaces, and now (successful) businesses are taking down the old regime and replacing the term “Manager” with “leader” with a more people-centric and values-based system.

In short, today, one can hold the title of manager and never actually have staff or employees under their direction and that is ok.

When you’re looking to appoint a manager; who is ‘managing’ a program, a budget, a project, you are looking for someone who is good with structure, processes and juggling many areas at once, insisting all are overseen and handled and directed effectively. They don’t really have to have people skills, because they aren’t managing people, rather what people do.

An employee should secure a managerial role because of their relevant experience in a field allowing them to effectively command operations and systems – and not because they’re natural-born leaders.

On the other end of the scale, a good leader might have absolutely no experience in the field, but know how to lead a team through a manager’s process toward collective goals. Leadership is about understanding the objectives of a company through how the people are going to get their work done. A leader should have the confidence in their team individually and know how to get the best out of them. A good leader will also possess the ability to influence the people around them to do and become more!

Manage things and lead people.

These days often there’s a leadership gap due to simply misunderstanding of what a leader is.

Managers make things work.

Leaders make people work.

Both managers and leaders are responsible for creating alignment. But I can guarantee you, a lot of the times you want to hire someone to manage your team you actually need a leader.

Once you know the difference between a manager and a leader, it’s important you take a look at your roles and responsibilities and assess correctly whether it might be the job for someone with great leadership qualities, or a better role for someone who has experience in management.

Occasionally you’ll require both, but more often than not, you can decipher between the two.

Things you’ll see when you hire a manager and you actually require a leader…

When you see a manager get results it might give you a false sense of success. But under a manager, the risk you take is people are working for results not an overall vision.

While this works when achieving results for systems and budgets and projects, when a manager tries to lead people in the same way it can all go very wrong. Yes, you may see targets met, but they could be being met without any understanding of the purpose, and this creates a huge risk in the long term.

A little recap…

A manager should know how to achieve goals functionally.

A leader should know how to get the people to work to their greatest ability within their function.

A manager might be focused on short-term goals and how to get their using what you have.

A leader will address a larger, driving purpose and lead people that way.

Always always ask yourself, is this really a job for a manager, or do you require a leader?

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