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The difference between a manager and a leader

Beth Braccio Hering, Special to CareerBuilder

You might be managing people, but are you actually leading them? Gone are the days when simply pulling your weight guaranteed advancement. Top talent in today’s workplace knows that both management and leadership skills are necessary for success.

“In earlier times, it was easy to differentiate the two,” states Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president of Human Resource Solutions in Northampton, Mass., and author of “Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around.” “However, in the new economy, where people are wearing many different hats, it’s now expected that managers will come to the table prepared to both lead and manage, with the ultimate goal being to maximize productivity and profitability.”

Are you doing both? Here are some ways to tell:

A manager accomplishes tasks, but a leader inspires.

Both managers and leaders care that work gets done. A manager should be able to organize and pull together the necessary elements to finish a project on time. But just because a deadline is met doesn’t mean that the person in charge necessarily exhibited leadership.

“Some managers are just abusive. They believe that the best way to motivate is through fear and intimidation,” notes Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.” “That never works. Employees may work harder, but they either¬†exit far too soon (and turnover becomes an embarrassment) or damage your reputation through ‘non-aggressive evangelism’ — showing others in the company and outside that you’re an undesirable manager to work for.”

In contrast, Joseph Grenny, co-author of the New York Times best-seller “Influencer,” says that great leaders practice intentional influence. “Managers often struggle to achieve the results they desire because when their team fails to deliver, managers typically blame lack of motivation and ask their team to simply work harder. The most influential leaders — the 5 percent who succeed consistently at influencing profound and essential behaviour change — spend as much as half of their time thinking about and actively influencing the behaviours they know will lead to top performance. They understand that to reverse entrenched habits and improve results they need to create a multifaceted plan to change behaviour across their teams and organizations.”

A manager executes against a plan, but a leader has vision.

Managers are good at following through on directions. They may have exceptional ability to stick to budgets, organize resources and stay on track — all of which are imperative to the day-to-day operations of a company. But these strengths do not always translate into being a leader.

“The manager is more into the details of getting things done than the leader,” says Pete Friedes, former CEO of the international human resource consulting firm Hewitt Associates and co-founder of “The leader is more into communicating where the organization is trying to go. She has a vision of what direction her group should go, what the group can accomplish and generally how it should accomplish tasks that lead toward her vision.”

Leadership requires good management skills, but the reverse is not necessarily true.

Finally, remember that it is one thing to have ideas but quite another to see them through. Top talent uses their managerial skills to carry out visions to their full potential.

“The best leaders are also good managers,” Friedes says. “But the best managers may or may not become good leaders. They may not have the vision to know where the organization should be heading.”

Friedes notes that at most levels in an organization, one can be a good manager without being a leader by getting tasks done effectively and accomplishing goals set by higher managers and leaders. “But at the highest levels, solely being able to manage people well is not enough to be asked to lead the organization. The Board or current CEO must believe you have the vision to take the organization to greater accomplishments.”


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