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Are You A Leader Or A Manager? By Mitch McCrimmon

Editorial Comment: If you look at the leadership literature, you will often find experts, and even noted management gurus like Warren Bennis, make a distinction between management and leadership. Often in making the distinction, management is characterized as less important, or somehow inferior to leadership. The distinction between management and leadership is, on one level, important, but on another level can bog us down in arcane definitions. This article suggests that managers are not inferior, and that both leadership and management are important.

What does this question mean to you? Are you asking yourself: ''Am I a champion or a drone?'' For some strange reason leaders are seen as the good guys, managers the bad guys. We see leaders as inspiring and people oriented. Managers are regarded as controlling and task focused. It is often said that you can lead people but only manage things. I think this is a mistake. It is time to bring management back from the dead.

Some writers have made a valiant attempt to differentiate leadership from management. There is the familiar line of Warren Bennis to the effect that managers do things right; leaders do the right things. The Harvard academic, John Kotter made an even greater attempt to define the two functions. Managers for Kotter take care of today's business, they keep things ticking over. Leaders, on this view, promote and manage change.

This is a step in the right direction, but Kotter muddied the waters by saying that leaders are inspiring while managers focus on planning, organizing and controlling to get work done. This move has the unfortunate effect of painting leaders into a corner (and managers too). Any definition that revolves around personality type or influencing style is doomed to fail because there will always be exceptions - the leader who moves people with quiet determination and a sense of purpose, the leader who cites hard facts or evidence for doing things in a certain way. The list of style variations is endless.

There has got to be a better way. It seems to me that leadership can be defined simply as the successful promotion of new directions while management focuses on getting things done, executing those directions. The key shift is to say that influencing style has nothing to do with how we define the two functions. This means that both can be inspiring as needed. A leader who promotes a new product to opportunists may find that such followers jump on the bandwagon with very little persuasion required at all. To show leadership in this context, you don't need to be inspiring. Conversely, a manager whose team is behind schedule on an important project has to inspire them to work harder. So, an inspiring leader moves us to change direction; an inspiring manager moves us to exert more effort in getting our job done.

But setting personality and influencing style to one side has important implications for how we view management. First of all, style is situational, meaning that you have to use whatever influencing tactics work with your target population. Second, managers can now be seen as supportive, inspiring, empowering and nurturing. Previously, we reserved these characteristics for leaders. While the main focus of management is on efficiency, that doesn't mean assembly-line mindlessness in today's world. Modern managers are more like coaches, facilitators or catalysts than assembly-line controllers.

But why do we really need two functions at all, you ask? Because, increasing complexity demands greater specialization, hence a greater variety of roles is required. This is not to say that you cannot do both equally well.

Further, organizations are top-heavy in terms of owning the tough job of finding new ways to beat competitors. Leadership needs to be cut loose from position so that everyone can show leadership, so all employees can be leaders if they champion new or improved products, services and processes. This includes employees at the front lines who don't manage anyone. Both leadership and management are functions but only management is a role. That is, you need to be appointed to a managerial position, but anyone can show leadership regardless of whether they are managers or not. This has a liberating effect, one that makes it clear how front line employees who don't manage people can show leadership bottom-up. This is crucial in any business that needs everyone thinking in order to beat the competition. When I say that anyone can be a leader, I don't mean that everyone necessarily has what it takes even to manage a small team, let alone rise to the top. On my definition, showing leadership simply means convincing people to do something different, regardless of your position.

The bottom line: Managers are just as important as leaders. The old mantra to replace managers with leaders was a mistake. We need to change how we view management, not throw it in the garbage.

See for more information on this and related topics. Mitch McCrimmon's latest book, Burn! 7 Leadership Myths in Ashes was published in 2006.

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