Some people are guiding lights who educate, inform, and inspire us by changing how we think about important things. Warren Bennis was just such a man. As an author, scholar, and professor he changed how we think about and practice leadership.
He helped us to understand the differences between leaders and managers. He believed that managers do things right whereas leaders do the right things. That distinction is huge.
For Bennis, managers keep their eyes on the bottom line and organize things so the business is running smoothly, efficiently, and effectively. Their major concerns are all about making sure things operate properly and the business is sustainable, growing, and profitable.
Leaders, on the other hand, keep their eyes on the horizon and focus the attention of the organization on the future and what it’s going to take to thrive in a dynamic environment. Their major concerns are creating a compelling case for the future of the organization and helping people in the business become active partners in reaching it.
Most of the business people I know are one or the other – either a manager or a leader. They rarely are both. Why is that?
The needs, desires, and interests of leaders and managers are not the same. They also have different skills and abilities.
The best managers I know take great satisfaction from making things work well. They like to improve the ways that the organization does things – they streamline processes, improve how things are measured, help people manage their time and resources better, eliminate obstacles, reduce duplication, confusion, and miscommunications, they address problems head on, and they make sure people are held accountable for results.
The best leaders I know are exceptional at inspiring people to create a new and different organization. They like to get people excited and engaged in things that change the business – they develop a compelling new vision of the future, create new structures and processes that move the organization forward, discard ways of doing business that reflect the old paradigm, identify and teach new ways to engage with colleagues, clients, and the community, celebrate changes that accelerate progress, and become the visual and verbal advocates for and living symbols of change.
Which one are you? Is your natural inclination to focus on the future and create a new organization or do you normally want to work on the here-and-now to make things run smoothly and effectively?
There is no right or wrong answer – what matters is that you understand the most accurate and honest reflection of your interests, values, skills, and desires. Knowing the difference between being a manager and being a leader affects your success and your career. It’s not merely a theoretical difference – it’s relevant and practical.
The men and women I’ve worked with, once they recognized their natural default for being either a manager or a leader, were far better able to decide which jobs and opportunities were better for them and better for the company, too. They decided where to go and what to do based on their strengths and interests and, as a result, they became even more successful.
Those men and women who did not recognize what they were (leader or manager) often found themselves in situations where they struggled. They failed to meet the challenges because their knowledge, skills, interests, and desires did not match the needs of the situation.
We can all be thankful to Warren Bennis – it’s his insight, intelligence, and understanding that help us to manage our careers better and be more effective managers or leaders.