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Managers vs. Leaders

Updated: Mar 16, 2023


In a perfect world, managers are leaders. In fact, everyone in an organization is a leader. That is to say, everyone — regardless of role or title — should consider themselves leaders and strive to continually improve their leadership through personal and professional development. But in today’s world, managers aren’t often encouraged to see themselves as leaders. This can create problems in an organization, by demotivating managers and their teams. Companies that consider only those in high-level roles to be leaders can struggle with bottleneck situations, lagging projects, and underperforming teams of people who don’t feel ownership or pride in their work. Let’s explore the difference between managers who see themselves as leaders and managers who don’t. A manager who embodies leadership is self-aware and confident and able to lead from that place of self-acceptance and self-authority. Managers who lack leadership training tend to lack self-awareness and confidence and can tend to focus on completing tasks using a dictatorship or “command and control” approach when working with teams. Managers vs. Leaders Differentiating between managers with leadership skills and those without can be challenging, so here’s a deeper dive into what leadership looks like and why it matters. How to Differentiate and Why It Matters Imagine working in an organization with high employee turnover every month. Take it further, and visualize your organization struggling to make enough revenue to stay afloat. Meanwhile, another company may be enjoying healthy profits and a workforce singing its praises. The difference can often be traced to a company’s leadership culture. The reality is that the first instance is a common description of organizations that lack leadership, while the second is mainly seen in companies that believe in developing leadership skills at all levels within the organization. Differentiating between a manager with leadership skills and a manager who lacks leadership can mean the difference between creating a high-performing team and a team that is unmotivated. It can also influence profitability and employee engagement levels in the long run. Here are some examples of the difference between managers who have leadership skills and those who don’t.

  • Managers who see themselves as leaders recognize and take responsibility for their impact in their relationships, projects, and organizations. They are in charge of their every success and failure and take responsibility for both. On the other hand, managers who lack leadership training often only take responsibility when they succeed and avoid admitting failures. Managers who lack leadership may even choose to point blame at others when projects have negative consequences.

  • Managers with leadership skills are aware of the importance of vision and values. They take the initiative to personally align themselves with that vision and identify common personal values that create a foundation for their own motivation to work on the organization’s priorities. They also help others in the organization to find alignment and enthusiasm for the vision and associated priorities. Managers who lack leadership often simply focus on the completion of tasks and deadlines without paying attention to the underlying motivation and long-term success.

  • Managers with leadership clarify what matters most, prioritize those aspects, and commit to making those priorities happen. By choosing what to prioritize and practicing accountability, they lead by example and set a clear path to be followed. Managers without leadership skills may delegate work, without considering the company’s and team’s values, workload limits, and priorities. When priorities aren’t clear, everything becomes urgent, and teams can end up being confused, overworked, and overwhelmed.

  • Managers with leadership skills tend to evaluate situations frequently and have the agility and flexibility to change course when needed. They are willing to adapt to situations, learn from failure, and adjust accordingly. Managers who lack leadership might simply focus on past successes and try to replicate those project successes by using the same approach, even when alternative methods are suggested. They may fear trying something new and often miss opportunities to innovate or create additional value.

  • Managers with leadership skills know when to step back to create developmental opportunities for others. They enjoy sharing the spotlight with colleagues and enjoy seeing others succeed as well. They value learning opportunities and encourage personal and professional growth. Managers who lack leadership may not be interested in taking advantage of personal or professional growth opportunities.

  • Managers with leadership skills inspire leadership in others by asking challenging questions, listening deeply, championing, and acknowledging. They want others to be the best versions of themselves, and they encourage them to think critically. They have a desire to build confidence within the people around them. Managers without leadership skills may forget to notice and acknowledge the strengths and successes of others.

  • Managers who lead foster an environment of cooperation and mutual trust. They appreciate the skills of others and look for opportunities to partner. They enjoy building teams, developing connections, and finding synergy. Managers who lack leadership often believe they are the only ones who can do a job right. They tend to work in isolation and avoid asking for feedback or help.

  • Managers with leadership skills know how to build effective professional relationships. They set reasonable boundaries, communicate honestly, and avoid making assumptions. Managers who lack leadership don’t take the time to set expectations and communicate honestly when those expectations aren’t met. As a result, relationships within their team members can become strained and trust can decline.

  • Managers with leadership skills trust their intuition, imagination, and instinct. They are in tune with energy around them and can tell when something is working or not. Managers lacking leadership training often rely on simply following the rules and existing processes and may miss opportunities to innovate and create something new.

Simply put, managers with leadership abilities have vision, collaborate, serve, and believe in themselves. They understand the various dimensions of leadership and how to tap into each as the need arises. Leadership is not in a title. It is about self-awareness, self-authority, and taking responsibility for your world. If you are looking to transform yourself, or your organization, and have a drive to succeed, start by discovering your leadership style by participating in this quiz today. You can also learn more about the Co-Active Leadership Experience course here to equip yourself with world-class leadership skills.




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