Leaders vs. Managers

October 18, 2018 | By: Jenifer Wright

When I started this article, I will admit that I had some biased opinions about the difference between leaders and managers. Over the years, I have been involved with two exceptional leadership programs—most recently the BOMA Leadership Masters Program. It’s hard not to want to be a leader, to want to seek out other leaders around you and focus on the wonderful attributes that leaders are said to possess. Perhaps it is a byproduct of those classes that caused me to focus more on the leaders in my life.

What about managers? Are they not just as important? Throughout the years, we have put so much focus on leaders and leadership within our organizations, almost turning the term “manager” into a negative word because they have seemingly been at opposite ends of the spectrum. But what if we look at them in a different light? After all, organizations need both to survive and thrive.

Let’s break down a few attributes of leaders and managers in generic terms, shall we?

Leaders have people who follow them. They are authentic, adaptive, motivating, encouraging, trustworthy and great communicators. They lead with their hearts and build relationships—they are teachers, instructors, facilitators of decision making and have long-term vision. Simply put, “leaders create fans.” Cynthia Mills of The Leadership Haven, recently said, “Leadership is a moment by moment earned position, granted to you by others, because of their belief, trust and evidence gathered that you have their best interest at heart.” That’s a powerful quote, so go ahead and read it again. Who doesn’t want to be THAT person?

Managers have people who work for them. They tend to dictate, are decisive and make decisions on their own. They are focused on and love the company culture— they lead with their heads, build systems and processes and are generally focused on short-term goals. Simply put, “managers have employees.”

In the past, I have read through descriptions like this and thought that being a leader sounded so much more positive than being a manager. Managers sounded harsh and demanding, while leaders sounded encouraging and supportive. Digging a bit deeper, you start to see that it would be hard to run a successful company without having both types of people on your team. If you are lucky, you might even have some people with both sets of traits.

Let’s look at a practical scenario and see how both traits pair well together to get the job done.

You hire a new member to your team who is shiny and brand new to our commercial real estate industry. From the moment they walk through the door, they are assessing everyone who may be vital to their role and who might be there to help them learn the ropes. There are policies and procedures in place to orient this newcomer to the company, descriptions of their job duties and beyond—the whole onboarding process.

As we all know, jumping into the deep end of adulthood can be overwhelming, and we have all looked around for those life preservers to keep us afloat in the professional world  from time to time. Imagine yourself as that  new hire seeing one of those life savers being a leader who sits down with you and learns about who you are, what drives you, what motivates you and learns more about ‘how’ you learn best while cultivating an environment what allows you to grow personally and professionally. But as well all know, it is not all rainbows and butterflies in the real world. There are budgets to prepare, projects to be managed, tenants to keep happy, invoices to be generated and money to be collected. If we do not have those managers in our organization to ensure procedures are being followed and things are getting done, every necessary task would fall through the cracks. Someone must train this new employee to do their job, and more importantly, to do it well.

Are you getting a picture of the differences and necessary traits of each type of person? We all need those leaders in our lives, both personally and professionally, to get to know ‘who’ we are and ‘how’ we function. On the flip side, we need those managers who get involved with the details and the ‘how to’s’ to get things done.

It is vital to incorporate leaders and managers into our organizations and the day-to-day structures that make our companies so successful. One is not better than the other, and they are both significant to success. Leaders are great at creating a grand vision for the direction of our companies, but in some cases, they may not possess the skills to get the team there. Managers are brilliant at the details and the processes involved to carry the company through to the ultimate end game. They know how to delegate responsibilities, tasks and make the necessary decisions to accomplish goals. The best managers can make the best leaders. So keep an eye out for employees with both sets of traits.


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