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Leaders vs. Managers
By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

There has been a lot of politically correct pontificating of late in corporate circles about the differences between managers and leaders.

There has been a lot of politically correct pontificating of late in corporate circles about the differences between managers and leaders. Most of the commentary I have read attempts to please both audiences. Those of you who have read my work in the past know that I am rarely politically correct nor do I ever seek to try and please all the people all the time.

While there is clearly a need for both managers and leaders in the business   world and while I respect and have developed close friendships with many a manager,   this author simply believes that the law of scarcity applies to the topic at   hand. There is an infinitely greater supply of managers causing a much greater   demand for leaders. Put simply, because leaders are much more difficult to come   by, they are therefore more valuable to an enterprise.

The paragraph above begs the question why are there fewer leaders than managers?   I believe it is because not everyone has it in them to be a leader and thus   the old axiom "a born leader". The intrinsic quality of leadership   often begins with nothing more than raw talent and a certain state of mind.   To possess the innate qualities of a leader is however not the same thing as   being a leader. As important as your DNA is, effective leadership skills are   developed and refined by time, experience, and a true desire to be more than   just a manager, but a true leader.

Let's breakdown the DNA of a typical leader...A leader is usually a very creative,   dynamic, outgoing and unflappable individual. They tend to think big picture   focusing on vision and strategy while looking to make a long-term impact. By   way of contrast let's examine the DNA of a manager. Managers are usually more   analytical while focusing on process and procedure looking to make short-term   contributions. The following list adapted from Mind of a Manager, Soul of a   Leader by Craig Hickman, John Wiley & Sons, demonstrates the DNA gap between   leaders and managers:

  • Managers build systems and procedures, Leaders build teams and develop talent.
  • Managers surround themselves with subordinates & Leaders surround themselves     with the best & brightest.
  • Managers avoid risk and Leaders thrive on risk.
  • Managers find comfort in the status quo & Leaders serve as a catalyst     for change & growth.
  • Managers settle for industry standard & Leaders demand the best.
  • Managers wield power while Leaders apply influence.
  • Managers control & Leaders inspire.
  • Managers formulate policy & Leaders set examples.
  • Managers instruct...Leaders mentor.
  • Managers are reactive while Leaders are proactive.
  • Managers plan...Leaders innovate.
  • Managers refine...Leaders revolutionize.
  • Managers reorganize...Leaders reinvent.
  • Managers pursue the tangible while Leaders seek the intangible.

We have all witnessed companies that have been over managed in the absence   of leadership. When leadership has been abdicated to management in a corporate   setting you will always find that growth slows, morale declines, creativity   wanes and the competitive edge is weakened. That being said, I have personally   experienced the value of true leadership at every stage of my life from the   athletic playing field, to the military battleground to the corporate boardroom.   Let's look at an example of the value of leadership from each of the three areas:

1.An example from the world of athletics...If you were the   owner of an NFL franchise and had to choose between having the #1 quarterback   in the league or the #1 center in league what would your choice be? Again this   doesn't mean that a great center isn't valuable, it just means that the role   player isn't as valuable to the team as having the talent factor and leadership   characteristics of a true impact player. Simply reflect back upon your own life   experiences and you'll see that you have come across many utility players over   the years, but very few franchise players.

2.A military example...Contrast if you will the differences   of two enlisted men of the same rank. The first is a sergeant in a headquarters   unit charged with the administrative support of a company commander. The second   sergeant is a combat controller in a special operations unit charged with coordinating   air strikes from the ground behind enemy lines. While both of the enlisted men   described above hold the same rank, are part of a team, and play important roles,   one is clearly an impact player in a leadership capacity while the other is   solely a utility player acting in a management capacity. The military has determined   that it is a rare individual who exhibits the characteristics necessary to become   a member of a special operations unit. Therefore they are willing to make a   much larger investment in the combat controller and in return the military expects   a much larger contribution from that individual.

3.A corporate example...This example will be short and sweet,   but hopefully very clear in its statement of impact. Who do you believe is of   greater value and makes a larger contribution to a corporation, someone who   administers policy and creates processes or someone who sets the vision and   creates the strategy? Just examine the difference in the pay stubs of the two   individuals contrasted above and you'll quickly see who the enterprise deems   to be of higher value.

I want to be clear that I am not "anti" manager. I am however very   "pro" leadership when it comes to optimizing the talent factor in   any organization. My bias toward leadership doesn't mean that I don't understand   the principles behind such truisms as: "there is no "I" in team"   or, "the sum of the parts is greater than the whole" or that "a   chain is only as strong as its weakest link." Rather it simply means that   I believe you achieve a much greater return on human capital with investments   made into leadership due to the scope and scale of the impact that a leader   can make. The bottom line is that I prefer to lead rather than manage and to   be led rather than to be managed.

Mike Myatt serves as the Managing Director and Chief Strategy Officer at N2growth, the leading venture growth consultancy in the US. He is also the author and moderator of the N2growth Blog. You can reach Mr. Myatt by Phone: 800-944-GoN2 (4662);  E-Mail: ; or Online:

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