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The Difference between a Leader and a Manager


Leaders drive their work to the vision of their company.  

Leaders decide who needs to do what work and when it needs to be accomplished.  They make resource decisions, trade off decisions and develop the talent of their team that will get them to the long term vision. Leaders set the metrics that will effectively measure if they are getting the work done that need to be done to hit their goals.

The most important role of a leader is building a team and always recruit new talent, promote their best talent and find new homes for those who are not contributing. For the highest performing leaders this is always at the top of their list of priorities.  For any organization, the best team, with the most talent will outperform all other teams.  Organizational strategies will change and evolve and product and marketing programs will have good years and bad but the best and most talented teams will outperform all others over time.

The second most important role of a leader is communication.  Having the skills and savvy to know what to communicate and when to do it.  Many leaders simply over communicate and their message gets lost. Others rarely communicate and their teams don’t know what’s happening in the business. Another mistake is using only one method to communicate.  Some leaders have Town Hall meetings to communicate, other use emails, others small group meetings, and others use company communications.  The reality is great leaders use multiple methods to communicate and do it over and over again to drive the message into the organization.  They communicate way past the point where they are tried of doing  it because they know that everyone being on the same page is critical.

Leaders also make changes to the way they communicate.  In the early years of my leadership roles voicemail was the most effective, later it was email, and today it’s a variety of tools including text. But no one method will work for all your employees.  Today you must have multiple tools in your leadership playbook.

Organizations are built on the backs of great managers. 

 Managers get things done, ahead of time and under budget, time and time again.  Great managers can absorb a tremendous amount of work, navigate changes in schedules and the work environment and still hit their goals.

Great managers are low drama, low maintenance and highly productive.  You rarely hear from them unless there are significant problems in the process.  They are so highly skilled at managing through the system that the leaders never know their there was a problem because the managers solve it on the fly.

Great managers are the unsung heroes of most companies.  They get the work done and don’t look for pats on the back everyday or need to be called out for doing their jobs,  They just do it, over and over again.  They are the ones who switch gears, sometimes 180 degrees, when the leadership changes and keep the business moving forward.

Great managers can see around the corners and anticipate the problems before that become major issues. They see them, communicate quickly and effectively on how to avoid them and keep the process moving. 

Great managers are some of the most adaptive people I have ever met.  They listen, ask great questions to clarify what they need to do and then they go do it.  Great managers also have long careers, many times in the same job with the same company because they are the ones who actually get the work done.

Some great managers can become leaders but it’s two very different jobs.  The leaders decide what needs to be done and the manager’s figure out how to do it. 

When then leaders start telling managers how to do the work or managers start thinking they should decide what needs to be done, the organization, stalls, gets off track and can eventually fails.

Leaders and manager must understand, accept and respect each other’s role and when they do, they can achieve great results.



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