There is often confusion between the roles of a manager and that of a leader, but there are fundamental differences.
Leaders seek to influence, motivate, and empower others towards a common goal and towards the effectiveness and success of the organisations they lead. They look for opportunities and generally achieve success through a positive and active personal attitude. They look to inspire others through their own energy and vision.
Managers, on the other hand, direct and control a group of people or entities for the purpose of coordinating and harmonising that group towards accomplishing a goal. They need to focus on the multitude of day-to-day challenges that arise, including possible conflicts and other personnel issues. They need to concentrate on necessities rather than on their own vision.
Peter Drucker put it in simple terms, explaining that “leadership is doing the right things; management is doing things right”.
There is some excellent research available on this topic, and one of the most straightforward and easy to read commentaries is one written back in 2007 under the title “Leaders and Managers: Are they different?” by Abraham Zaleznik, the Konosuke Matsushita Emeritus Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School in Boston.
“The difference between managers and leaders”, he wrote, “lies in the conceptions they hold, deep in their psyches, of chaos and order. Managers embrace process, seek stability and control, and instinctively try to resolve problems quickly—sometimes before they fully understand a problem’s significance. Leaders, in contrast, tolerate chaos and lack of structure and are willing to delay closure in order to understand the issues more fully”. “In this way”, Zaleznik argued, “business leaders have much more in common with artists, scientists, and other creative thinkers than they do with managers. Organisations need both managers and leaders to succeed, but developing both requires a reduced focus on logic and strategic exercises in favour of an environment where creativity and imagination are permitted to flourish”.
His comments are just as valid today as they were in his original paper, written in 1977, although there has been significant development in our understanding of how behaviour impacts on the effectiveness of leaders and managers in the last 46 years.