The Difference Between Leaders and Managers? Less Than You Think!

The Difference Between Leaders and Managers? Less Than You Think!

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The world is full of classic face-offs:

Red Sox vs. Yankees

King Kong vs. Godzilla

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla

Dracula vs. Frankenstein

Kirk vs. Picard

They’re all pikers! Nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to the big one: Leaders vs. Managers. As important as any of these other matchups might be in some circles, none of them have ever generated the sheer volume, passion, and press as the eternal debate over the difference between leaders and managers. Classic arguments in the leader vs. manager debate include such pearls of wisdom as, “Managers take you safely along the map, leaders take you off the map;” Peter Drucker’s classic, “Managers do what’s right, leader’s do the right thing;” and so on.

If there is a fairly consistent theme in the leader vs. manager debate it’s that leaders are somehow innately superior to the poor manager. Managers are relegated to the role of also-ran or minor functionary. While I hate to disagree with Drucker, not only is this unfair to managers, it’s also inaccurate.

The fact is no one can single-handedly lead a large organization. A skilled, charismatic leader might be able to individually lead 10 or twenty people, although even that is probably pushing it. By the time your organization is up to 100, 1000, or 10,000 members, it’s too big for one person. There are too many moving parts, too many specialized groups. Each of those groups needs to know how they fit into the overall mission and strategy of the organization; how does the corporate mission apply to them and why are they important? Let’s face it, groups and individuals who are seen as not important to the success of the organization don’t stick around. Either they get fired because they aren’t producing or they leave because they don’t feel connected and involved.

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