Are You a Natural Leader or Manager?

picture of the word 'leader' highlighted in a dictionary

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In my growth as a person, I have often had to look at my current talents, skills and knowledge in order to assess where I am and where I need to grow in the future. And in each of these occasions of self-reflection, I must authentically assess whether the position I seek requires a manager or a leader.

First, let’s gather some common language.

A manager is selected because they have technical skills, knowledge, or expertise.

A leader is someone who can influence and inspire.

One is people and execution oriented. One sets the vision/mission and determines the course.

At first glance, there are many similarities between leaders and managers.

Both leaders and managers must be good at communicating vision, strategy, processes, and goals. Each must be good at solving problems and resolving conflict. Each must care about the company’s or non-profit’s mission and advancement in the marketplace. Each must move people in a forward direction. And, each must have the ability to manage crisis.

Yet if we look deeper, while leaders and managers have overlapping aspects, there are key differences in their skillsets.

Managers must understand how people are wired and each person’s motivation. They must be passionate about developing others. A manager needs to be present-focused and understand how to keep an organization moving forward. They must be good at implementing the vision that the leader has set, because managers enable employees to succeed.

Conversely, true leaders must be focused on the future. They must have the ability to see beyond the trees and into the forest in order to assess if a company is on the right path. Leaders are disruptive — they change course when the organization is headed in the wrong direction, and they adjust the sails when the organization’s culture gets off track. Leaders are often visionaries, they have a ton of ideas and are not afraid to these ideas to find innovate ways to solve problems to chart new paths.

Here are a few key differentiators: 

  • Leaders set the vision; managers follow it.
  • Leaders imagine the culture; managers adjust the people to meet the cultural destination.
  • Leaders look to the future; managers work in the present once the future goals have been set.
  • Leaders think ideas, managers think execution.
  • Leaders inspire people; managers drive their success.
  • Leaders look at what should be done; managers decide how things should be done.

When we are considering a promotion for an individual, we first need to look at their talents: Do they have the talent to inspire or to execute? Are they naturally about the present or do they love dreaming about the future?

Next, we should consider what skills they will need once they are promoted to a new position: Do they need help with the mission or creating processes? Do they need development around running effective meetings or learning to be flexible?

And finally, what knowledge will they need to be successful as a manager or leader? How can some education propel them forward?

Whatever you decide, please know that our world needs good managers and inspirational leaders and it’s our job to identify where they will naturally fit in order to best use their strengths — enabling us to develop them up to their potential. As always, let us know how we can help.

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