Nowadays you can’t go 20 minutes without seeing an article contrasting leaders and
managers. Leaders are described as those who inspire, motivate, and empower. They
establish direction, create vision and clarify the big picture. Managers by contrast plan
and organize. They oversee a team of employees, manage schedules and activities,
establish rules and procedures, provide structure and ensure that things run smoothly.
Being a leader has become the Holy Grail of business whereas managers have become
second-class citizens. In fact, nowadays, bashing managers is all the rage.

But I think managers are getting a raw deal. First, what many people are labeling as
managers really are just bad leaders. Let’s not confuse the two. Someone who
micromanages everyone, criticizes them publicly and steals credit for their work is not a
manager. They’re a jerk.

Second, let’s be honest, although the attributes of leadership are all hot, sexy and in style,
every company still needs effective management to be successful. Inspiration and
motivation without any structure or protocols is a recipe for disaster. This is the failure
of many entrepreneurs and small business owners. They’re visionaries with amazing
ideas, but they don’t know how to create the infrastructure necessary to scale up their
concepts into a sustainable business.

Also, if leaders are the one’s who really drive change, aren’t there going to be times when
we’ve had enough change. Have you ever seen how people act during change? Who
wants that all of the time. It’s good to have things stable out after change, to create rules
and protocols. I know thinking outside the box is a big buzz phrase now, and I’m all in
favor of thinking outside the box, but not all boxes are bad. Once you’ve thought outside
the box, you need to make a new box. Boxes can keep you out of trouble (and the
courtroom).

At this point, many would respond by saying, “great leaders are both managers and
leaders.” OK, I’ll give you that. Now think back over your career. How many truly
great leaders have you had? I can honestly say, that I’ve had one really good leader, and
maybe two or three others that I would call “good.” The rest were average or really bad.
Many of the people I’ve talked to have expressed similar experiences. Some have had a
great leader, almost none have had more than one. There are actually very few great
leaders out there; most are average (by definition).

In fact, most descriptions of great leaders are fairly unrealistic. Few people have all of the
attributes of a great leader. Far less have none of the weaknesses often used to describe
bad leaders. What we often describe as great leaders are more like mythological
creatures than real people living in a real world. Even the people I’ve met whom I would
consider great leaders, all have some glaring weakness, but the positives outweighed the
negatives to such an extent that people were OK with it. Expecting leaders to be perfect, or close to it, puts unrealistic expectations and stress on both the leaders and the people
they lead.

What most organizations really need is to have their good and average leaders partner
with a good manager. Someone they can bounce ideas off of, and who will be frank and
honest with them. Someone who is not competing with them, but is comfortable with
their role and can stay in their lane. One who can transform their vision into realistic
plan, a person who can actually help implement their ideas. An organization that has a
good leader working with a good manager can accomplish great things.

Does that mean the managers should work on leadership skills and vise versa? Of course
not, managers who develop leadership skills will be more effective, just as leaders who
know when to take the foot off the gas are more successful. But let good managers be
managers.

Consider baseball as an example. No one in their right mind would want their team to
take an all-star shortstop and convert them into a catcher just because there is a need.
You would let them play their natural position and look for a great catcher. In the same
way, we need to let leaders lead and managers manage, and let both feel great about
doing so.

The bottom line is we really do need managers, really good ones. And we need to stop
bashing managers. If someone’s a bad leader, let’s just call them what they are, a bad
leader. But let’s not call them a manager.

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