Distinguishing between a leader and a manager is a topic that can be debated at length. Are they different? If they are different, are there overlaps? Which is more important? If one of those two elements go missing, could a business still function? It is a topic that is debated in lectures, studied by experts and about which there is not right or wrong answer, but it is still a great topic to work your way through. If this is something that you are pondering, either from an academic or an actual operational perspective, here are a few things to consider.
Can they be studied?
There are many more courses available that cover management than leadership and indeed, many will argue that leaders are born while managers are not. This might be partly true, and it is clear that the ratio between a leadership course and a diploma in business management is staggered very much in favour of the latter, but that is not to say that people are not born with aptitudes for both. Some people are inherently good managers while others are great leaders. By all accounts Winston Churchill was a great leader but a poor manager, and leaders tend to enjoy higher profiles than managers, but there are also many great managers who have excelled at what they do.
Can you be both?
This is the ultimate winning combination. It is not easy to find because leadership and management do not necessarily sit comfortably side-by-side within the make-up of an individual, but what is clear is that for any team or business to run smoothly it needs a blend of both leadership and management. The best teams have a leader they can rally around and follow, and a manager who can handle logistics and operations and make sure that the leader’s vision and plans can be executed.
What do they do?
The major difference between a leader and a manager is that the former has a strategic vision while the latter has operational nous. The one inspires while the other organizes. It is not to say that a manager can’t inspire confidence with their organization, or that a leader is not capable of organizing, but there is a difference. Leaders are focal points who come to the fore during times of crisis or stress. Managers are people who make and execute solutions and visions.
Can you survive without one?
The answer to this is ‘yes’ but it depends on the context and nature of the situation. We mentioned Winston Churchill earlier as an example of a great leader. His powerful oratory and pugnacious attitude made him a rallying focus for the allies during World War Two. It was crisis time and he was the man at the forefront of the battle. But when the war was over, and the crisis gone, he was very swiftly voted out of power, replaced by the more management savvy Clement Atlee, who was the man to decide and execute it in the post-war environment.