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Managers and Leaders: What’s the Difference?

Business Leadership  
10/29/2018

Take a moment to consider a wonderful leader that you have met in your life.

That person could be a famous personality, perhaps a Martin Luther King, a Mahatma Gandhi, a Ronald Reagan, or a John F. Kennedy.

Perhaps the leader that you are imagining right now is a father, a mother, a family member or a friend.

That person might also be a mentor, a business leader, or a spiritual figure.

The image in your mind’s eye is likely to stir emotions, make you happy, and kindle a passion. It’s OK to linger here for a minute or two and enjoy the moment.

Now, think of a great manager whom you have encountered.

That is a little more difficult an assignment, isn’t it?

You might be able to remember a few good managers, and maybe you have even patterned your management style to emulate them. But good managers are not as likely to invoke the same emotional response in people as a great leader. In fact, it might even be difficult to think of a past or current manager as being especially “great.” Maybe they were simply competent.

The purpose of this post is not to disparage good managers. The world needs more good managers. And while it is virtuous to remember and celebrate great leaders, not everyone can be a great leader. After all, if we were all great leaders, who would there be to follow? There are appropriate times and places for both leaders and managers to contribute to the company’s mission.

If one were to envision a Venn diagram, with managers on one side and leaders on the other, there would surely be an area where the two circles intersect. Some managers are leaders, but not all good managers are good leaders. Some leaders are managers, but not all leaders are good managers. Ideally, an individual will embody attributes of both, but a person can be very effective in their work either way.

Supply chain management is a relatively new business concept that was born in the 1980’s and was popularized in the 1990’s. Its wonderful contribution is that it looks at businesses holistically. SCM recognizes the interconnected nature of individual activities. It seeks to break down barriers to communication between functional silos and promote cross-functional strategy development. Great leaders are emerging as SCM matures as a profession.

Here are five differences between managers and leaders.

1. Managers require. Leaders inspire.

College textbooks often define management in terms of what managers do: they plan, implement, and control. Planning might involve a level of creative thought and strategy development, but for the manager, it is frequently in support of larger company-wide objectives. The latter two responsibilities of managers imply a high degree of transactional preoccupation. Implementation and control are “sweating the details.” They involve working out the background logistics that bring an idea into reality. It’s often difficult work that is infrequently celebrated. Managers develop standard operating procedures and enforce compliance. They measure, monitor, and take corrective action as they go.

Leaders tend to consider the broader picture. They look at businesses holistically, with long-term objectives always in mind. They assemble teams of skilled practitioners, inspiring them to work together toward achieving those objectives. While leaders do worry about the details, they will often encourage their team to resolve those details themselves, empowering their followers to act, always in the best interests of the business.

2. Managers tell. Leaders sell.

Managers tend to be directive. They understand best practices and tell their subordinates how to fit their work into those practices. They enforce rules and regulations. They ensure that subordinates are well aware of how things should be done.

Leaders are more concerned with an idea. They motivate others to buy into that idea. They focus on the “why” and the “what” of an opportunity. Leaders understand that they might not have all of the answers on how something gets done efficiently, but they rely upon their tribe to seek answers to the “how” questions. Leaders are great communicators, who are able to verbalize the reasons why their team should devote their time and energy to bringing the leader’s idea to fruition.  

3. Managers work the Mission. Leaders shape the Vision.

Every strategic plan has a mission statement. It defines what a company does. It articulates a business’s purpose and what it intends to contribute to society. Using a sports analogy, the Mission defines what arena the company intends to compete within.

Mission statements set up the four walls within which a company should operate. It provides focus and consistency of purpose. The Mission is an important tool that gets people working consistently.

The Vision, on the other hand, articulates the long-term direction of the company. It lights a beacon, sometimes far off on the horizon, that answers the question “where is it that we, as a company, want to go.” A properly crafted Vision statement appeals to one’s emotions. It is a “call to action.” It motivates and endures. It sustains commitment over the long term and gives employees a reason to take pride in their company.

4. Managers calculate. Leaders speculate.

A significant portion of the manager’s role is to monitor and control activities. They are often very deeply involved in developing key performance indicators and managing performance both internally (for example, of employees and production systems) and externally (for example, with respect to improving supplier delivery and quality performance.)

Leaders often consider the “what if.” What if we expand into new markets? What if we develop a new product? What if we build a revolutionary distribution system? Responsible speculation on such matters requires a great deal of courage and willingness to break new ground. Leaders are also courageous enough to seek good counsel from trusted advisors, who might eventually be charged with the responsibility of motivating the company to blaze new trails.

5. Managers are about efficiency. Leaders are about effectiveness.

It is often said that efficiency is about doing something right. Effectiveness is about doing the right thing.

To their credit, good managers seek ways to make the machinery of the business enterprise work as efficiently as possible. They use objective measurements to try to deliver results with the least amount of time, effort, and resource. Increases in productivity of a system is a common goal. Efficiency focuses on processes and how to improve them.   

But the leader who focuses on effectiveness is less concerned about cost and is more concerned about the goal. The leader’s attention is on the future, whereas the manager’s attention dwells in the present. The leader seeks innovation and new ways to achieve the vision. The leader motivates the team to stay pointed in the right direction, pulling together. They are willing to encourage change and are tolerant of appropriate risk. They are liberal with giving credit and reluctant to punish. They understand that conflict is inevitable, and facilitate discussion and consensus. They enthusiastically develop followers and other leaders, always growing the tribe.

For a successful business, efficiency and effectiveness are two sides to the same coin. Companies who thrive over the long term are able to lever the planning, implementation, and control expertise of a good management team while engaging the visionary power of great leaders. It is the perfect combination.

Contact us if you would like to learn how DemandCaster can help you end the chaos and reap the benefits of an agile, supply chain planning process.

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