If you are a manager … does that automatically make you a leader? And is it possible for you to be a leader … without being a manager?
These questions (and probably about 500 more) have motivated countless articles over the years trying to differentiate leadership from management … and vice-versa. So, here it is! The last thing you will ever have to endure on the topic! Ready? Good! Now, first things first, commit these two definitions to memory:
- Leadership is influence.
- Management is working with and through others to achieve organizational objectives.
You’re probably way ahead of me, but here are the key distinguishing factors between the two:
- Leadership is “multidirectional.” In an organizational setting it can flow down (boss to direct report); across (peer to peer); or up (direct report to boss)
- Management is “unidirectional.” It flows from someone with formal authority (boss) to someone that is officially governed by that authority (direct report) in an effort to produce desired results
Now, if you were the kind of kid in school that loved to set logic traps or ask questions intended to embarrass your teacher and make a mockery of whatever class you were in, you are probably thinking something like this:
- “Sooooo … technically … a manager is, in fact, a leader … right?”
Sort of! A manager, by decree, is a one-dimensional leader with the potential to be so much more! He or she can indeed influence the behavior of those in the department or on the team by virtue of the authority vested in them by the organization (Now, please lower your hand … and stop with the questions!). But, and quite unintentionally I am sure, that question does provide insight into two additional and very important distinguishing factors:
- Leaders influence others fueled primarily by the power they earn. They invest in others, build trust and demonstrate expertise. Quite often people do things for leaders, not because they have to, but because they want to.
- Managers have the option, and on occasion the necessity, to influence their direct reports through the power they are given. When you are promoted into a position of management, the ability to reward and sanction comes with it. Additionally, quite often people look to those with legitimate authority for direction and decisions when they have no idea what to do (think all things COVID-19 or any other disruptive change here).
So, to answer the questions posed in the first paragraph, the first thing you need to do when you become a manager … is to figure out how to be perceived by those in your spectrum of influence as a leader. And if you aspire to become a manager … the absolute best thing you can do to position yourself for consideration … is to demonstrate you can effectively lead … without the benefit of formal authority!