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17 January 2019
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Would you rather be a leader or a manager?

14 January 2013

I was reading the other day an on line forum where the difference between a manager and a leader was under debate.

That there is a difference between managing and leading I don’t think is at issue, but there is no reason for me why the same person can’t be both, and I would go further and suggest that many of the best leaders are also good managers.

We tend to think about leadership in terms such as inspiring and visionary. People who are passionate and focused about where they want to go and others will follow them and everything will happen as a result. But the reality is that making things happen involves another set of skills, things like planning, and delegation.

I once asked here “are you a thinker or a doer?” echoing a question that I had once been asked in an interview, and I think that this is where sometimes the leadership question starts to lose the plot a little. There is glamour to leadership; another of the typical characteristics of a good leader is charisma. It’s one of the things that help leaders attract followers, and in some cases plays a bigger part in doing that than the ideas the leader may have. So there is a tenancy for those who want to become leaders to focus more on that glamorous side of leadership than on the side that actually makes things happen.

We all have our own ideas on who the good leaders through history have been. Ask any group and some of the same names will come up; Churchill, Hitler (someone will always bring him up as an example of how good leaders don’t always do good things), Ghandi, and Mandela I can almost write on the board before anyone speaks (depending on the age group and education).

But putting lists of names aside for a moment there is one factor that will come through if you study a good and successful leader is that they know how to get things done and will surround themselves with a good core team through whom they can ensure that their vision is delivered.

Being able to plan and understand the logistics of what you are asking people to deliver is crucial to successful leadership. It is what brings a sense of realism to the goals and enables them to be achieved through matching them to resources. A stretching target is one thing, but people are quickly demotivated by unrealistic goals that they can have no hope of delivering.

Management as a skill is even more important further along the chain of command, but here the good manager also needs leadership qualities in relation to their own team. They have to be able lead people, develop people and motivate people if they are to be successful in delivering results.

Leadership is a complex issue, and it is wrong to expect perfection from leaders. They are, after all, only people and carry flaws as we all do. But they do have that X factor that enables them to stand out and help to build a following. They need the vision and the ideas to inspire people and they need to know how to build a team around them that can get things done; so they need to know how to manage.

Good leaders understand what it takes to deliver results. Management and leadership are not mutually exclusive, they are complementary skills, that go hand in hand.

John Bowen is an FM consultant

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