Leadership Lesson: Can you be a great leader and great manager at the same time?

Published in the Phoenix Business Journal on September 30, 2021

“Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right.” - Warren Bennis, American professor, author

It depends upon the situation. In a startup and small organization, the leader will likely need to be a manager, too. But in the larger organization, the leader will need to give overall management responsibility to a Chief Operating Officer (COO). 

Most of all, it is critical to understand the primary roles of leaders and managers. They are not the same.

Contrasting leader and manager roles

Here are some primary distinctions for leaders and managers. These are generalized views and they sometimes cross over between the two:

  • Leaders lead people. Managers manage processes.
  • Leaders create and communicate the vision. Managers implement the vision.
  • Leaders take the first step. Managers take the next step.
  • Leaders ask “why” and “what.” Managers ask “how” and “when.”
  • Leaders align people. Managers organize people.
  • Leaders motivate and inspire. Managers administrate and direct.
  • Leaders mentor, teach and pull the team. Managers coach, show, and push the team.
  • Leaders challenge the status quo. Managers work with the status quo.
  • Leaders unleash potential. Managers coordinate resources.

This does not mean that leaders are more important than managers.

More about differences and similarities

The contrasts do not mean that leaders and managers cannot share characteristics and behaviors – in different measures. There can be leaders at every level of the organization, not just the CEO. Individual employees in a company can be excellent leaders. A CEO might be a great leader, but not a strong manager. 

The truth is that we need both great leaders and great managers.

This does not mean at all that managers have lesser values than leaders. And, there are leaders at every level of an organization. Including individual employees. We need both leaders and managers.

Those who are both

Some great visionary leaders also dig deep into details – their industry and organization – so that they could dream and leader, and manage the minutia. Harvard Business Review noted several of them: Francis Ford Coppola (film), Steve Jobs (Apple), Ann Mulcahy (Xerox). The former leader of Medtronic, Bill George, spent 75% of his time during the first nine months in his job watching surgeons put Medtronic devices in their patients – and he talked with doctors, nurses, patient family members, and hospital executives to learn in-depth the details of his industry and customers. This was management work in addition to his leadership role.

The bottom line

There are leaders, there are managers, and sometimes they are the same person. Learn the characteristics and behaviors of each. Then, strive to be both.

Click here to read this article on the Phoenix Business Journal site.