Managers are people too

Today, I encountered a list of the differences between managers and leaders in Leaders vs Managers on Leadership Freak, guest written by Lolly Daskal (both of which I regularly follow in Twitter). I won’t recount the entire list, but here are a few of the differences Lolly shares:

  • Leaders lead people. Managers manage people.
  • Leaders inspire. Managers comfort.
  • Leaders have followers. Managers have subordinates.
  • Leaders break rules. Managers make rules.

Lolly asserts that both are valuable,

As you can see managers and leaders are two different people. Do organizations need both? YES.

But I have to ask myself, given these options, why would anyone ever want to be a manager?  Would you rather have followers or subordinates? Anyone out there rather make rules than break them? (And I have to question that one anyway- leaders are very often called to the difficult and less fun task of making the rules.)

It seems that anytime we talk about management and leadership in the same breath, management gets the short end of the stick. Take this point, for example:

Leaders have vision. Managers are about reaching goals.

Let’s re-frame it and see if it doesn’t change the playing field a little.

  • Leaders have vision. Managers help people make their dreams come true.

I like to think I have helped people make their dreams come true or at least pointed them in the right direction. Some days I have more or less vision than others and it is immensely rewarding to know that on any given day I can help people grow and evolve.

I started my first manager’s job on September 10, 2001, managing a team of trainers who traveled across the country. One of those trainers was in New York City on 9/11. She was fine, but never the same. It was quickly apparent that a career of getting on airplanes was no longer a viable option for her. Over the next 6 months, we worked on ways to ‘manage’ this new challenge she faced, and ultimately I helped her realize she needed to find another calling. I recall her clearly telling me the day I let her go that sometimes what she needed was a good ‘kick in the butt’ and if I hadn’t forced the issue, she probably never would have made a decision.

I suppose you could draw leadership parallels from this story, but for me this was fundamentally about managing a delicate situation and helping the person under my guidance maintain their dignity.  It is both an awesome responsibility and an amazing opportunity to be a manager, and in that role, employees have shared their most personal and poignant moments in their lives with me and asked for my help. I can’t think of anything I have done professionally that is more rewarding.

Besides, in my experience as a manager over the past 10 years, what most companies want is someone who has both leadership and management skills. They want a manager who helps their team follow the rules, but also has the good sense to challenge (or break) rules when they no longer make sense. They want a leader who can both set direction and lay out the steps to achieve that direction. Isn’t it about time we stopped contrasting the two roles and instead talk about how they complement each other?


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