When aliens land on earth in the movies they never say, "take me to your manager." But why not a manager? Aren't leader and manager synonyms? Is it important to understand what defines a leader vs. a manager? I mean, my boss leads my department, so she must be my leader. What is the difference between leadership and management?
Managers Manage the Tasks at Hand. Leaders Lead Towards the Future.
Managers are focused on getting the current job done. That's fine—it needs to get done. But a leader is looking at the big picture. He or she asks the tough questions, such as: How does this task lead towards the quarter's goals? How does this fit into the company's overall plan? How does this help prepare the employees for their future career goals?
Managers Supervise People or Tasks. Leaders can be Individual Contributors.
There are people managers and project managers. Each has a defined set of responsibilities. Sometimes a leader doesn't have a big title, and it's just the person that everyone looks up to for guidance and direction to be an individual contributor. This person embodies leadership and people naturally follow. This is the type of person to watch out for and promote to management.
Leaders Guide People Towards Success. Managers Tell People What to Do.
If you're a checklist type of manager, you're probably not a leader. Checkboxes aren't bad—they aren't. But, if all you can do is tell people to check off boxes, it's not leadership. A leader inspires and supports other people to succeed, and sometimes that involves individual tasks and sometimes it involves letting things evolve on their own.
Leaders Are Willing to Give up control. Managers Set Directions for Everything.
When a direct report becomes too proficient, it can send ill-equipped managers into a frenzy. Leaders rejoice and recognize that this person is ready for more responsibility and a possible promotion. Managers may be tempted to keep their tasks and their projects close at hand. Leaders recognize when someone is ready to take on new responsibilities and rejoices in that.
Leaders Care About the People. Managers Care About the Numbers.
Numbers are important—anyone who tells you otherwise is off his rocker. However, they aren't the only thing that matters. A manager might bark at a slow-moving worker to pick up the pace, but an empathetic leader will ask if there is a problem and offer a solution. Both leaders and managers may end up firing an employee who can't pull it together, but a leader will try to resolve the issue first.
Resolving a problem is often a more difficult task than firing an employee. Ignoring it doesn't make it go away and will likely encourage your best employees to quit. Managers focus on hitting targets, while leaders see if their team is solid and if there are problems brewing.
If you're a manager—whether it's of a project or people—stop and take a look at how you conduct yourself. Are you acting as a true leader, or simply as a manager? It is important to understand the differences that define leaders vs. managers and to make sure you focus on developing the former.