Archive for October 23rd, 2011

Manager or Leader?

There is a worldwide discussion going on today that distinguishes what it means to be a manager and what it means to be a leader. In times past, the words have often been used interchangeably. But today, the characteristics of the roles are more separated than they’ve ever been before. In short, managers as those who direct and help execute for an organization. And leaders are those who guide, inspire and provide vision to the organization.  So the question today is, what does really mean? And which one are you? Manager? Leader? Or both?

There are a lot of resources out there which discuss the topic. A topic that I’m also interested in.

I recently read a blog post by Seth Godin talked about it. His blog post said the following:

Managers work to get their employees to do what they did yesterday, but a little faster and a little cheaper.

Leaders, on the other hand, know where they’d like to go, but understand that they can’t get there without their tribe, without giving those they lead the tools to make something happen.

Managers want authority. Leaders take responsibility.

We need both. But we have to be careful not to confuse them. And it helps to remember that leaders are scarce and thus more valuable.


** I like Godin’s analysis because it mentions how we need both – not one or the other.


Another opinion I like is the interview by former Dean of HBS.  I’ve linked to the video here before but in a series of two interviews he talks about what leaders are. In the VIDEO (48:30) the Dean says the following

“Not all of us in the world have the privilege of working in something that itself is inherently passionate.  Some of us work where it`s like work.But everybody can be in a place where their work is valued, where they have opportunities to grow, where they are respected, and where they can see the connection between their work and the larger purposes that they serve. And that has been something I’ve tried to do at this place.

And so I gave a little motto: There are no unimportant jobs at the Harvard Business School. Everybody has an important role to play. And you work in an organization to help people understand that`s not rhetoric. It`s real. ….

And that is what leaders do. Leaders instill in people a sense of purpose and they inspire people. They inspire people if they are god. because they connect people to the larger purpose.

In the same manner, business schools talk a lot about leadership today.  What you can do to lead an organization. What it takes to be effective. Interestingly enough, one of the main critiques of MBA grads is that they have great technical skills but that they also have less than perfect leadership skills. That they don’t always navigate organizations or manage people as well as they could. But instead that they shine because of their analytical and quantitative skills.

As a first hand viewer today, I wouldn’t say that the statement is incorrect. After all, that’s what many of the so-called “top” employers look for too. Interviewees that can run the numbers. Create spreadsheets. Produce detailed PowerPoint presentations. And do math in front of them in an interview. Not people that can tell a good story. Manage hundreds of people. Convince the masses. Or come up with a new and innovative idea on the spot.

So in many ways there is an interesting disconnect in what leaders do, and what so called “future leaders” are taught. It’ll be interesting to see how this disconnect continues to play out.

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011 Leadership 1 Comment

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.


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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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