The other day I was asked if a presentation I am going to give to a company should be mandated for all supervisors.  I answered that it depends on whether or not the company wants to develop more leaders.  The person I spoke with at the company said they already do a good job of this.  When I started an inquiry as to their practices it became apparent that they were developing better managers and not leaders.

I started to think about many of my coaching clients.  When asked if they felt they were leaders, many of them said they were.  When presented with the difference between leadership and management many of these self-proclaimed leaders retracted their statements and said that in reality they were excellent managers.  In fact, many of the individuals said that the organization did not allow them to truly lead.

There is nothing wrong with managing.  We all do some form of it in our positions.  I think the truth is that many of us think we are  good or great leaders when in fact we probably are but do not exercise these traits for one reason or another.  

So what is the difference between the two.  Warren Bennis separated the two as follows; (the italics are my comments)

    • The manager administers; the leader innovates.  Leaders consistently apply the practices of continuous improvement.  Making systems and people better.


  • The manager is a copy, the leader is an original-the manager follows what is in place.  The adage of “we have never done that way” becomes the managers crutch and excuse for not innovating.
  • The manager maintains, the leader develops-The leader develops systems, people, new processes
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on People-One of the biggest difference is that true leaders understand that success lies on the strength of the people and he/she is willing to spend the time, energy and resources to ensure that there is people growth.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust-Many mangers use power and control rather than trusting their people to do the right thing.  Micromanagers get a clone of themselves, they do not get an innovative organization.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.  Managers focus in on the immediate.  There is little vision or if there is, no idea how to execute towards that vision.


    • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.  Leaders look to root cause analysis and problem solving to advance the organization.


  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.  Managers rule by budget.  Leaders understand that budget and other metrics are merely indicators of what is and what is not working.


    • The manager imitates; the leader originates


  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it. When I was CEO I always challenged the status quo.  Nothing was out of bound or off limits if it added value.   One of the best book I ever read about this topic is Sacred Cows Make The Best Burgers.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person. –The three cornerstones of leadership are Accountability, Integrity and Authenticity.  The authentic you, is the true leader.  


  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing

Many organizations are filled with great managers who advance the growth of their company.  The growth is steady and predictable and it is growth.  But it is not transformational.  It is not harvesting the potential of the organization to create a breakthrough organization.

I have long been a proponent of the fact that there is no good or bad or right or wrong when it comes to organization.  (NB there is legal and illegal).  I do believe that management skills will bring us to one level while leadership skills will get us to a totally different place.

For the longest time I thought I was doing a good job at leading when in fact I was brilliant at managing.  The company continued to see growth of about 4-5% per year.  When I finally realized that my team needed leading, we grew the organization by 15% in one year.  The lesson I learned is that when I shift, my team also shifts.

Lead or manage?  The choice is yours.