Two Fundamental Types of People: We Need Both
Leader vs Manager is perhaps a debate that's as old as the history of modern business organization. Both of these terms are somewhat nebulous with many definitions.
This article starts with a simple self-assessment that helps you determine whether you are predominantly a leader or a manager. Next, it defines what leadership and management are and compares and contrasts their traits, characteristics and qualities. It also provides some resources for further exploration, study and reference.
A word of caution: It's wrongly assumed by many that leaders are somehow "better" than managers or that managers should try to be leaders. Both have their value in the world. Please make sure that you answer the questions with brutal honesty with yourself.
The best place to start reading this article is to take the simple assessment below.
Let's Get Started!
Leader vs Manager: Traits and Characteristics
In my experience in working with leaders and managers, I have found that most people are predisposed from their early childhood, maybe even from birth, to be either a leader or a manager.
That's not to say that a person can't acquire the skills to be one or the other, only that to most people one is more natural than the other. This is why a person would be naturally attracted to either being a manager or a leader.
Following are some traits and qualities that make leaders and managers predisposed to be one or the other.
Leadership vs Management Personality Traits
The orange color denotes Leadership Personality Traits.
The blue color denotes Management Personality Traits.
Leadership Personality Traits
Management Personality Traits
Visionary, Dreamer, Romantic
A leader prefers to see into the future and dream about its possibilities.
They tend to view themselves as positive, even romantic, about the future.
To some managers, visionaries seem a bit disconnected from reality.
Grounded, Realistic, Practical
A manager's preference is to keep their focus on the present situation - where they are - and stay grounded in its realities.
They see themselves as practical, level-headed people with an ear to the ground and view the grand visions of the leaders with a skeptical eye.
On the other hand, some leaders see managers' brutal realism as negativity.
Vision, Strategy, Execution
Because leaders tend to be more big-picture people, they see the world in big brush-strokes.
They see the future as an over-arching vision.
They want to get to their vision through strategic options because a step-by-step plan is too confining.
Instead of a specific set of action steps, they tend to see the path to their vision as an execution, which allows them an open, unrestricted view to achieving their vision.
Goals, Projects, Tasks
Managers are detail-oriented, linear thinkers.
Their preferred view of the future is a direct projection of actions and behaviors that lead to an immediate goal.
They see their path to achieving goals in terms of projects which in turn are made of tasks.
They prefer a linear path to their goal where one step leads to another, and then another.
Leaders like to see their world in terms of possibilities. That’s why, they seem to prefer many options to get to their vision.
A single path to a goal may lead to failure which leaders don’t like to entertain. Strategic options give them the freedom to get to their vision; if one path fails, they have another one.
For this reason, leaders tend to prefer strategic options over a specific plan of action.
Managers view their world in terms of concrete actions that lead to specific results.
Right Brain/Lateral Thinking
Right brain thinking is more lateral than linear.
In lateral thinking, one idea can connect to an entirely different idea through an association that is not very obvious to linear, step-by-step, left-brain thinkers.
Leaders have a tendency to be more lateral than linear thinkers.
Left Brain/Linear Thinking
Left brain thinking leads a thought into a straight line, one step after another.
In liner thinking, a thought connects with another similar thought in a straight line.
For this reason, effective managers tend to think of ideas and actions in terms of step-by-step plan where one step leads to another and then another.
Because most leaders tend to be lateral in their thinking, their vision tends to be a 360-degree panorama.
Managers tend to be linear, step-by-step thinkers.
For this reason, their vision tends to be narrower and more specific rather than broader and expansive.
Intuitive: Seek Internal Guidance
When making important decisions, leaders have the tendency to check with and trust their internal guiding system.
Often known as intuition, gut feeling, or a hunch, this internal guidance system gives leaders a sense of confidence that others find comforting.
In extreme cases, heavy reliance on their internal guidance system can also get leaders in trouble.
Effective leaders are aware of this tendency within themselves and compensate for it with seeking external data and expert opinions.
Sensing: Seek External Data
Managers tend to seek external data points, knowingly or unknowingly, while making decisions.
Such external data points may include elaborate research, opinions of others, and sensory signals such as what they see, hear, and touch.
Over-reliance on external data can lead to a sense of overwhelm that may paralyze managers in making important decisions.
Good managers are aware of this and make sure to also consult their own internal voice or feeling in making judgments about important aspects of their life and work.
Internal Frame of Reference
Over time, leaders build a philosophical framework to help them come to terms with the world around them.
Such philosophical framework is almost never a written document, however. For leaders, such a framework is unspoken or may even be unconscious and would need another person to draw it out.
A good example is the biographies written on famous world leaders like Dwight D. Eisenwover where the author interviews them extensively, and even spends time with them to figure out their life philosophy.
External Frame of Reference
Managers will have a tendency to create a frame of reference that consists of external data points.
Dedicated, effective managers will have an extensive collection of books, tools, and skills that they rely on to make their way through life and make important decisions.
Leaders may have such a collection too, but they won’t refer to them as often as the managers do.
Goose: Production Capacity
Like in the proverbial story of the Goose and the Golden Eggs, the primary focus of a leader will be the capacity of an asset to produce something.
For this reason, they will primarily be concerned with the well-being of the asset itself.
These assets can be people, machines, tools, or financial capital. They will spend just as much energy looking after the tools of production themselves as what they produce.
Golden Eggs: Productivity, Production
Managers are more concerned with what gets produced, how much, and how often it is produced.
Because they are more invested in end results of actions and behaviors, they will have a tendency to push the means of production to their limits.
Good managers know the value of down-time, of recharging and replenishing, and keeping their tools - and their people - sharp.
Leaders forge the vision from what they believe is important to the people they lead.
Notice that the word here is "forge" not "create."
Effective leaders will channel the deep aspirations of the people who follow them and their vision will be a reflection of their collective aspiration.
Managers are best at following the overarching vision that is laid down by the leader.
It's not that managers can't forge vision like leaders, it's just that their vision will have a tendency to be a more direct result of the actions they take.
This is simply because managers tend to see themselves as "realistic" and "down-to-earth."
Often, good managers will see the big vision of the leaders as a pipe-dream. This is a part of what makes a manager a great manager - their complete dedication to getting things done efficiently.
Leaders are more concerned with deploying the resources at their disposal in ways that gain them a long term advantage, even if that means that they have to progress slowly in the short term.
Their tendency to make a holistic progress where everyone moves forward will make them more effective at accomplishing things, rather than being efficient.
Managers are more concerned with making the maximum immediate progress with the resources that are given to them.
They are more concerned with how much and how quickly they can accomplish things given the resources.
This may make them efficient in the short run but ineffective the long run because they may overextend their resources and cause burnout in people.
Leaders tend to measure the success of an undertaking in terms of progress - in terms of how far they are from the vision.
They are less concerned with how they get their as long as their basic values are adhered to.
Strong managers tend to be more concerned with how they progress towards the goal and the intermediate results on the path towards the big goal.
People More Important than Task
To leaders, people are more important than the tasks they perform, as their vision includes what's important to the people who are doing the work.
For effective leaders, people are an integral part of their vision and even the cause of that vision. For many extra-ordinary leaders, their vision is often for their people.
Task More Important than People
Because managers are more concerned with efficiency, tasks are more important to them than the people who are performing them.
To managers, people are the means to getting things done, just like a machine is an asset for producing results.
People are the Reason
For extra-ordinary leaders, people are the reason for their overarching vision.
To them, how people end up - their condition, their aspirations, and their well-being - is an integral part of their vision.
People are the Means
Managers' instinct is to view people as a means or a mechanism to make efficient progress towards immediate goals, which in turn may lead to bigger goals.
A key leadership trait is that leaders tend to see the forest for the threes. Even when they see a specific piece of detail, disconnected from its context, they see patterns that will fill up the details around it.
This can be both a blessing and a curse.
Leaders will often fail to see a piece of evidence of data in its own light.
They will build contextual framework around it. If they are experienced in the specific field of expertise, that context may be accurate.
But if they are venturing into a new field of expertise, the context they use to process the data may be inaccurate, leading to faulty conclusions and bad decisions.
Managers see a piece of data for what it is, without needing the context to formulate a big picture view around it.
The strength of this trait is that managers can process data without building a false narrative around it.
Their weakness is that a single piece of data can compel them to proceed in a direction that may be the wrong direction for their overall objectives.
"Are We in the Right Jungle?"
If a team is cutting trees in the forest, a leader will have the tendency to ask bigger questions like, "are we in the right jungle?" "are we cutting the right trees?" or "why are we cutting the trees without growing new ones?"
Cutting Trees Efficiently
A manager, when given the job of cutting trees, will be concerned with cutting the maximum number of trees with the minimum of amount effort, resources, and time.
Managers will often be frustrated with the questions asked by the leader because their natural inclination is to do the job most efficiently, not concerned with the larger questions surrounding the project.
Leader vs Manager: Commonalities and Differences
Leaders and managers share six things in common. They differ, however, in how they deal with those six things.
Both leaders and managers work with people. However, for a leader, people are the reason, the cause for whom an endeavor is taken on, a vision attained or a project completed. For a manager, people are primarily a means to achieve a significant achievement, accomplishing an important task or completing a project.
Both managers and leaders understand that there is a collective condition, a Reality, that's unacceptable to a group of people. A leader's intention, however, is to help those people believe in the Vision of a solution to their Reality. The manager's intention is to motivate them on a gradual path to a Vision.
People often form a Vision of how they want things to be, which is important to both leaders and managers. Leaders help people forge a shared vision that they believe in and communicate it back to them to get their agreement. Managers help people make that Vision actionable by breaking it down in incremental goals, projects and tasks and providing the necessary resources for moving forward in the direction of the Vision.
4. Gap or Cognitive Dissonance
The gap between the Reality and the Vision, also known as Cognitive Dissonance in psychology, gives rise to an endeavor. Leaders use Cognitive Dissonance to help people carve out a path from Reality to Vision that they can believe in. Managers use Cognitive Dissonance to help people take specific action steps on a specific path.
Both leaders and managers understand that people need to choose a common path to go from their Reality to their Vision. Once the path is chosen, leaders make certain that people remain on the right path to the right Vision. Managers, however, make sure that their progress on that path is pursued efficiently - as quickly as possible and at the minimum expenditure of resources.
6. A Higher Purpose (Optional)
People often share a sense of mission or purpose that transcends the avoidance of Reality and achieving of a Vision. Both leaders and managers make use of Higher Purpose. Leaders bring out the best in people, their higher angels, so they will give their whole beings to the achievement of the Vision. Managers tap into people's higher purpose and transform it into a selfless sense of persistence, endurance and perseverance.
Agree or Disagree? "...most people are predisposed from their early childhood, maybe even from birth, to be either a leader or a manager."
Which Trait, Quality, or Characteristic Defines You as a Leader or a Manager?
Do you agree with your assessment as a leader or a manager?
Is there a trait or a quality in you that identifies you as a leader or a manager?
Please share in the comments section below one quality that defines you as either a leader or a manager.
More importantly, tell us one insight you are taking away with you from this article (and from the quiz) about being a leader versus being a manager.