Leaders or Managers !!!???

Conventional wisdom leads, many a times, people to unconventional domains. The line between leadership and managerial roles are very clear.

During my total career span of more than 20 years, I’ve come across more leaders(?) than managers. Its conventional wisdom that “Managers do the things right, Leaders do the right things”; but in some way this encourages managers to label themselves, unconventionally, as leaders. Every manager, without exception, thinks himself to be future leader or leader-in-making; but prudent thoughts negate this concept to the fullest extent.


Many organizations fail to understand that the difference between a leader and a manager is much more profound than they think. Its suicidal for the companies to overlook the difference. Tagging their managers as leaders, sending them to leadership workshops, encouraging them to lead just demeans their managerial roles and fails to deliver results as a well lead company.

Companies primarily fall in two categories: First type of companies are Over-managed and Under-lead. Second type of companies falls in the category of Over-lead and Under-managed. Both the paths are too dangerous to tread for any company. But this is not choice, this is trap in which management falls when fails to make balancing act between Leadership and Managerial domains of the company.

The over-managed under-lead company fails to see the future coming. It has strategic incompetence. Everything looks glowing in good times; sales rising, profits growing, people awarded for accomplishments, lavish spending. This is the phase where only managerial competencies are required. Ironically, without any clearly defined roles, leaders are sucked up in operational tasks without even knowing it. Any company which manages its operations well will survive and thrive in these times. But it has gross dearth of quality leaders who can lead the company to future. This type of companies has one thing in common; though they are excellent in managing their conventional product lines, they fail miserably in idea generation and innovations. They always struggle with domains which fall outside their traditional line.

In testing times of changing technologies, changing markets, these companies find themselves in middle of disaster; because they had never been able to come out of the trap of over management and failed drastically to look for the future. Then it is visible that what seemed to be meticulously engineered marble palace is actually phony set made of lathe and canvas hold creatively together by sales figures and profitability.

The over-lead under-managed companies are likely to face disaster more than over-managed under-led companies. Though good at strategic competency, these companies fail to capitalize on their ideas and innovation. Many a times the catastrophe strikes sooner than expected because managers starts believing themselves as leaders and miserably fails to perform their managerial roles. They are like managers in the garb of leaders who despondently fails to perform either of the roles effectively.

These type of companies always struggle with routine operations of procurement, manufacturing and selling. Managers are busy becoming leaders and nobody is there “to do the things right”. Over managed and over-lead companies have one thing common; both fails in going out of their traditional lines and excel in the market. They always follow other companies and never catches up to become innovative market leader. Over-managed companies fail to get into future with innovative products and over-lead companies fails to manage the innovative products if at all they get one provided their managers don’t acquire carcinogenic thoughts of being leaders.

Companies must understand that most important difference between a great manager and great leader is that of FOCUS.

Great managers look inward. They focus inside the company, into each operation, into each individual, into each individual’s way of motivation, working, goals, and needs. These differences may be small & subtle but managers need to pay utmost attention to them. These fine differences are useful for managers to guide each individual to release his unique talents and turn into performance. Managers “have to do the things right”, perfectly right and give their leaders calm and serene environment to think and act strategically to take the company to the future.

In contrast, great leaders look outward. They look out at the competition, they look out at the future, they look out at the alternate route forward. They look at the organization in much macro way. They focus on broad views; they focus on solving the future’s puzzle, they find connections and press home the advantage where the conflict is weakest. Leaders are visionaries, thinkers, activators. This is the most critical role in any company, provided it is played well. In my opinion great leadership is no way concerned with turning one’s talents into performance.

Leaders are not at all sophisticated managers. Great leaders are not mere managers who have developed sophistication; in the same way great managers are not the leaders-in-waiting. As I discussed above, the core activities of leaders and managers are totally different from one another. It is much likely for a person to be a great manager and terrible leader. A great leader can also prove to be a disastrous manager. But a few exceptionally well individuals excel as an exceptional leader and outstanding manager. But mark my words: they are “a few exceptionally well individuals”.

But if companies get confused with the two roles by tagging every manager as a leader and treating every leader as exceptionally well, sophisticated manager, then sooner or later every thing will falls apart, doomsday will come inch closer with each passing day. Every company needs excellent managers and visionary leaders, and please note that these are two different individuals with distinct roles.

Leaders have hawk’s eye view while managers have worm’s eye view.

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