Leadership or Management?

Have you ever noticed that a lot of times the terms leader and manager are used to talk about the same thing? “Who is the leader here? Who’s in charge? Who’s got authority?” These are often the things we want to know when we enter into a new situation. 

Unfortunately “leader” and “manager” do not mean the same thing and these questions all demand separate answers. For example, the person in authority may be both a poor leader and manager. Or someone may be a great manager and a poor leader. Or a poor manager but a great leader.  And neither of them may have the authority (formal or informal) or the position to move things along. So how do we sort through this mess? 

It’s helpful to make a distinction between manager-stuff and leader-stuff. Managers are concerned with order, efficiency, and control. Smooth operations, trouble-shooting, making sure the organization is “firing on all cylinders,” these are the things that management is all about. The ultimate goal is a stable environment where production (goods and services, or information, or spirituality,) can be maximized smoothly and with little interruption. The key for management is stability through control (through policy setting, rules, accountability procedures, etc.). 

On the other hand, leaders are all about change. Their focus is on new ways of thinking and behaving, new challenges to the organization as a whole, even new systems designed to meet the goals of the organization or perhaps even changing the goals of the organization. Leadership is “bumpy,” full of starts and stops, refitting, “messy.” The key for leadership is change through a change in attitudes and behavior. Often accompanying this emphasis on change is anxiety, discomfort, and insecurity about the future. 

Now, its important to note that we need both. When an issue comes before someone in authority, the question must be asked: does it require managing or leading? Then we have to figure out how we communicate the issue to other people and THEN we have to gauge whether the people are expecting leadership or management. When people are looking for stability and calm and someone starts leading instead of managing, watch out for the fallout.  And when what is needed is change, a new direction or a new focus, and someone starts managing instead of leading, watch out for stagnation or frustration. 

We each have our own personal preference for either the manager or leader mode. However, frequently we have to wear both hats. So the way to know which hat to wear begins with examining an issue and asking: is this issue mostly about management/control/stability or is this issue mostly about change.  Once we ask that question, we’re on our way to making a difference.


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