Difference between Leader-Manager


I found this chart on Linkedin and shared it.  It turned out to be very popular and I wondered why?

As I reflected on the reaction overnight, I remembered an incident early in my senior management career.  I was working my butt off and the organisation was growing at a rapid rate.  I knew I was treading on toes for some of the old staff and especially one tight knit group.  I cannot remember exactly what was said to me by one of the group, but it really got at me.  It was a criticism over my style of management.  I did not say anything to anyone.


Later in the day, I was catching up with the CEO in his office and he must have sensed I was upset, even though I thought I had parked the comment.  I told him what happened and did not expect much support as this particular CEO was tough as old boots.  He looked at me and said, “If your job was easy I would have given it to X, but the job is hard and that is why you got it.  You will always get critics in your career, but remember that most times they are people below you in the organisation.  If they are so good, why have they not got your job?”


Reflecting on the people who shared this post I went and checked their profiles.  Not one was obviously in a senior leadership role.  Which leads me to the point that we promote people without training them and the biggest leap in your career is when you take on a CEO role?  No matter what training you receive, it is a giant leap.  Once you have been a CEO, you understand that one of the frequent comments is that it is the loneliest role.  It is also the most vulnerable role.  No matter how good you are, always some want to take pot shots at you.  Moreover, they come from Board members to junior staff.   Every CEO I have met has the one thing in common with every parent I have ever met – no one sets out to be a failure. 


The chart above is equally a comparative analysis of parenting – good vs. bad.  Yet how many of our parenting skills have been learnt from our parents mistakes.  I grew up in a strict discipline family and passed that style of parenting on – it is a seriously watered down version and I suspect that trend line is over a few generations.  The concept of learning from others determines who and what we are as people.  Our parents are the strongest influence over how we influence our children.  Robin Skynner in “Families and how to influence them” talks at length about how we are attracted to people who keep the same sub-conscious messages behind an inner barrier.  In other words, we are attracted to people who are like us as opposed to the old school of thought “opposites attract”.  Interestingly, Skynner talks at length about our sub-conscious and how very few people analyse themselves in this area.  He claims subconscious plays a bigger role in our lives than we appreciate.


If your role models were in the “boss” genre as described above you would not even notice your behaviours reflected your old boss unless you spent a lot of time analysing why you are reacting the way you do.  Why self-analyse?   We self-analyse to grow as a person and improve ourselves at multi-levels. This is what separates a good CEO from a bad CEO – self-analysis.  Some of the best CEO’s operate out of both of the above models.  They respond to the situation and the individual.   What most good CEO’s look for in their staff is self-improvement?  Are they learning?  How are they developing as people, specialists, team players etc.?    The easiest way to check this out is their commitment to educating and training themselves.  In other words, CEO’s look for people who thirst learning – these are the best people to promote.  The people CEO’s take little interest in are the ones dubbed “well poisoners” or some such equivalent phrase.  These people think they go because they dared to speak out.  In reality, they go because they were so destructive. 


What the chart at the beginning does not describe is the role of the individual in creating the culture that allows the person at the top to be a leader rather than a boss.  It is easy to point the finger at the person at the top.  What is our role in making that person behave the way they do?  If we change our attitude and behaviours, it is fascinating how those around us mysteriously change.  One person does influence the culture of an organisation.  An organisation of 1000 has 1000 people influencing the culture, hence why so many book have been written on “managing your boss”. 


This leads me to a few questions:

  • Why are so many reluctant to self-improve through formal education?
  • What are the fear factors that hold us back from change?
  • What are the personal risks in self-analysis?
  • Why do we not all behave in the leadership characteristics described above in our daily life?
  • What would be the consequences if we all exhibited those leadership characteristics in every component of our lives?


I would be interested in your thoughts.