Are you a manager or a leader? There’s no judgment in this question. Leadership isn’t some enlightened state that one achieves after years of management work. These are, simply, two different jobs.
Much is expected of professionals who lead at any level. Managers and leaders are both decision-makers and problem solvers. They both direct and lead, but they pull different levers. When you are a manager, you execute projects and processes. You delegate tasks and set deadlines. As a manager, you enforce policy, resolve issues and set team priorities. Your job is to deliver results.
When you are a leader, on the other hand, you cultivate vision and strategy. You make changes happen for the better. You help teams focus on big picture priorities. As a leader, you convey a vision of the future that gets people excited.
Leadership work means creating motivation and culture. As a leader, you identify, attract and secure the talent that powers your organization, including the managers who execute your vision.
A leader is a development champion. Like leaders, managers also have a development component to their role. They recognize, mentor and advance the talent they see in employees who show potential. They can only do this work, though, if their culture supports it.
Growing as a leader means recognizing the vital role you play and the value that you bring to the team. Here are the differentiators and ways that you can continue to grow your expertise.
You don’t have to directly manage others to be a leader. Authentic leaders’ impact doesn’t come from a job title, authority or direct reports. Great leaders influence others by believing in them, empowering them to do meaningful work that maps to their core strengths, and challenging them to stretch in new areas. Great leaders help others to recognize and develop their own skills and leadership capacity.
Having the insight and passion to lead evolves over time, as leaders refine their approach, values and leadership philosophy. Leaders use that philosophy to drive their work as culture builders. Great leaders listen and learn. They clearly and positively communicate goals. They innovate, experiment and challenge, shaping values and culture around employees.
Stellar leaders inspire others through their actions. Leaders not only manage but coach others to solve problems, take on challenges and see opportunity in each problem, by continuing to bring the team back to the big picture goals.
Successful leaders understand their teams needs. They are in tune with their employees’ personalities and they understand their attitudes and fears. Because of this, they make their employees feel heard and valued. Employees feel assured they will grow in the company of stellar leaders which energizes them to do their best work and to evolve professionally.
Managers focus on performance, planning, and objectives. The objective they need to accomplish on a given day determines which role they will enact: coach, mentor, teacher, administrator, super-user. Managers become generalists by leveraging the various approaches that the situation demands.
Managers also assume a leadership role when it’s warranted. It’s a hat they wear, a component of their jobs. Engaging in various management work refines leadership competencies. It enables future leaders to build their awareness of the different factors that inform leadership decisions.
Managers monitor the day-to-day activities in which their team engages and delivers. They are well-versed in the details about how to improve and streamline the work. Like leaders, managers have a hand in the work of culture-shaping, although sculpting team culture is different than shaping corporate culture. Generally, much of the framework is in place, and managers reinforce it through daily efforts like communicating goals and expectations.
Managers evolve when they manage others better than they have been managed in order to develop and retain talent. When their efforts pay off they are poised to deliver results with lasting impact, which prepares them for the rigors of leadership work.
Growing into your leadership self
Both leaders and managers create focus and structure. A key component of being a good manager is to recognize the strategy leaders have laid out, refine it tactically and make it actionable. Great managers create best practices, which position their team to succeed when they encounter challenges.
Leaders do fundamental work, creating the basic elements of culture that inspire continued growth. Exceptional leaders champion the strength that others bring to their best work. Great leaders mentor them, influencing them to engage their skills, better positioning them to solve problems, first by growing their management skills and then by refining their leadership abilities. This creates a productive and vibrant culture, where innovation can thrive. This doesn’t happen by accident. It’s manufactured by a leader’s vision, a manager’s execution, and a team’s efforts.
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