The Leader – Manager Dilemma


Today we had a very interesting session in class dealing with leadership. Every person of our 65 people class(at my B-school AGSM, Sydney) had to walk up and talk for about a minute about one important characteristic of a good leader that they think they embody. Now, I know this sounds a bit corny, but the main issue was getting people to speak about themselves and see their presentation skills as well as getting the know everybody.

There were some very interesting presentations and many people talked about important characteristics: Well organized, a good listener, Able to take harsh decision under pressure, passionate, determination, confidence, delegating of authority and more.

But the process and the above mentioned list did get me thinking about the difference between leadership and management. A lot of people mix them. Do leaders really need to be well organized? Or have confidence? I can think of a few leaders who aren’t. I do think it is more important for a manger to have these characteristics.

I was wandering why people mix the two definitions (actually the words are sometimes used as synonyms). I think it is because in too many roles, people are expected to be both. The problem is it is hard to be both.

I think leadership and management are different. I really like Marcus Buckingham’s theory in the book “The one thing you need to know“, claiming that managers’ role is to find the strength of every employee and do what they can to allow him exploit it to excellence while leaders are agent of change, their role is to paint a vivid picture of the future in order to dissipate the our natural fear of the unknown and the uncertain.

Recently, I read Seth Godin’s book Tribes, where he writes:

Management is about manipulating resources to get a known job done… Managers manage a process they’ve seen before, and they react to the outside world, striving to make that process as fast and as cheap as possible. Leadership, on the other hand, is about creating change that you believe in… Leaders have followers. Mangers have employees. Managers make widgets. Leaders make change…

So why is the difference important? If you accept that there is a difference then you accept that there are different talents, skills and knowledge for each group. That means that usually, we cannot expect the same people to do both. But so many roles do. Instead of finding out what is more important to the success of the role, there is an attempt to achieve both, which ends up in an average result. And average, in our society, is just not good enough. So I think this is another conventional wisdom that needs to be broken.


  1. Hey guys,
    Thanks for your replies.
    I mostly agree with your comments. I don’t think that team building and recognizing strengths is an essential part of being a leader. I think it is a managerial quality. Actually, it is the most important role of a manager (see Markus Buckingham’s books “the only thing you should know” and “First, breaking all the rules” for more about that.
    I do agree with the assertion that a good leader needs to be a good a speaker. That is because he should be able to paint a very live and vivid picture of the future. This is what Obama is doing wonderfully.
    Hope to see you visiting my blog :

  2. A leader can work with people smarter than himself or herself, but still hold his own. He can get people at all levels to look up to him. Look at Barack Obama, even before starting out as the president of the United States, people from all levels look up to him. He may not be the smartest person in the US, but the smartest look up to him.

    A leader needs to be a good speaker. When he speaks he holds your attention and the word formation, sentence formation, content formation is perfect. It’s not an easy task. I have heard NR Narayanamurthy speak. When he spoke, people did not get any thoughts in their head, except hear him out. I have heard Steve Jobs speak from his famous standford speech. So being a good speaker is very essential for a leader.

  3. Well said! Eladsherf.And Congratulations on this excellant post. I mostly agree with u, except that leaders know their own strengths and have the uncanny ability or knack to spot complementary strengths in people and thus they are able to build winning teams.My humble addition is that leaders are team builders and also they know the value of the change they want to bring in.


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