Are you a manager or a leader?

Michael Boyd

There was a time when shift managers in a 20th century factory didn’t need leadership to achieve the weekly production goals. His or her job was to organize the work, assign the right people to the necessary tasks, coordinate the results, and ensure the job got done. The focus was on efficiency.

In the today’s economy, management and leadership are not easily separated. In fact, successful organizations create environments that cultivate leadership in managers at every level. Today’s employees look to their managers not just to assign them a task, but to define the purpose of the activity. Managers still organize workers for efficiency, but they also nurture skills, develop talent and cultivate leadership potential.

The primary cause for the shift away from short-term production quotas is the value that workers bring in the knowledge they possess. Peter Drucker recognized this emerging trend and coined the term “Knowledge Worker.” Today’s diverse workforce is rich with life experiences and cultural history. It is more versed in basic technology. To achieve business goals and maintain a competitive edge, organizations must cultivate the leadership potential of managers within the work force.

To identify and nurture leadership potential, differentiate the role of the manager from the leader. The American Management Association, in its course “Leadership Skills for Managers,” cites the work by Warren G. Bennis who, along with Robert Thomas, identified the differences between mangers and leaders: 

• Managers administer; leaders innovate. Managers focus on the daily tasks essential to keeping the organization running. Leaders try new ideas and take risks to find a better way of getting the desired result.

• Managers maintain the status quo; leaders seek challenges. Managers strive to maintain order and resist change. Efficiency is achieved by controlling the variables. Leaders question traditional procedures and policies and, through trial and error, discover improved methods.

• Managers think short to mid-term; leaders think long term. Managers focus on weekly activities and quarterly results. Leaders have a vision of the way things could be vs. the way they are. They look at the big picture — growth and expansion. 

• Managers control; leaders motivate and inspire. Managers seek to know the rules and to enforce them for the good of the organization. Leaders recognize the desire in people to achieve and to be recognized. They use feedback and praise to encourage their people to perform. Managers, to their credit, also use praise and recognition, which helps them make the transition to a leadership role.

• Manager focus on systems and structure; leaders focuses on people. Managers work to maintain an orderly system that produces quantified output. Leaders focus on people and their potential and see them as the organization’s most valuable asset.

The bottom line is that both managers and leaders are necessary for organizations to succeed. Managers drive the daily activity that helps the organization achieve its business goals. Leaders, at both the executive and operational levels, sharpen the competitive edge while keeping their eyes on the horizon. They see internal potential and external opportunity, and provide the inspiration and motivation to achieve success.

The enlightened organization is the one that seeks to cultivate leadership by providing a workplace environment that rewards innovation and seeks constant improvement. The risk is the disruption it brings into the daily routine.

However, the reward of future growth makes it worthwhile.


Michael Boyd is the program manager for Business and Workforce Development at Hagerstown Community College. He can be reached at