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When are you looking for a manager and when are you looking for a leader?

May 15, 2018

 

“We are looking for a manager who can be a true leader.” This is one of the sentences that can be tough to swallow. Yes, obviously, that’s kind of what everyone is looking for these days. Someone who can do it all. But is it also who you should be looking for? Many times the words manager and leader are used implying the same meaning although they are quite different and it’s worth to have a look at why that is.

 

Status quo vs. change

 

What do you need to maintain a status quo and get the most out of your processes? And what does it take to inspire your people and truly envision a long-term strategy for the future of your company? Are those really the same people you need for these tasks? Not really. These tasks describe one of the inherent differences between management and leadership – the long-term, flexible, risky vision of change.

 

When you want to foster uniqueness, risk-taking and growth you might need a true leader. But whoever it is you need, it’s incredibly important to also clarify who is who. That doesn’t mean that a manager is less meaningful or important in a company’s structure. He is as necessary for a visionary decision as the one with the vision. Because he’s the one who executes the decisions and keeps processes afloat. However, when in need for a change of direction, a leader is needed.

 

Formal power vs. informal power

 

It also doesn’t mean that a manager doesn’t lead. He just leads with a different kind of power. You can call it formal power. A manager relies a lot on existing structures, controls risks, maintains and directs. The power of a leader is much more informal and has to do with creating a vision, giving input, coaching and leading change. He gets people to follow him whereas a manager gets his instructions followed.

 

Strong personalities are in my experience a big part of strong leadership. That’s something that often collides with actual company expectations. More than once have I been in a situation where a “true leader” was seemingly wanted but once he was sitting in the interview, it turned out that they actually were looking for a manager. That’s why it makes a lot of sense to really think it through before hand whether you’re looking for a leader or a manager.

 

Can a manger also be a leader?

 

Apart from the question whether that’s necessary, there absolutely are a great number of managers who have real leadership skills. Managers who can drive their team with long- and short-term goals in mind. On the other hand great leaders are not always in management positions. And they don’t need to be. In fact, I tend to see examples where a clear differentiation can work out rather well. There is a time and space for inspiration and innovation but there is also a time and space for managing all the things necessary for that. Not every management position needs leadership – rightfully so.

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