ATD Blog

Leader vs. Manager

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

There are many different theories about leadership, many I don't believe, including: 

  • Leaders need to be perfect at all times.

  • Leaders are born, not grown. 

In the Harvard Business Review article “What Leaders Really Do.” Author John Kotter says, "Most U.S. corporations today are over-managed and under-led." Judging by all the books, training, and discussion on the topic, leadership seems very complicated. Here are the simple truths as I see them:

  • Anyone can be a leader and a manager.

  • You will have to be both a leader and a manager in your work; choosing when to switch roles is the trick.

  • Managers optimize the organization and its people to meet the strategic goals (RMA Focus Areas: Manage/Challenge)

  • Leaders drag the organization and its people kicking and screaming into a strategic future (RMA Focus Areas: Lead Challenge).

Chip Neidigh from Catalyst OC provokes us to dig a little deeper. As he reflects on Hollaback's strategy to use a two-minute video of a women walking a gauntlet of less-than-courteous men to drive awareness and behavior change, he makes this point: 

"A clear vision of the future requires a sharp contrast between what is, and what could be. Much of the online conversation about the video has centered on which catcalling behaviors are inappropriate. This isn’t a worthless conversation, but it muddles the point. By including both marginal (friendly greetings from strangers) and clearly inappropriate behaviors (invading her personal space for 5 minutes), the creators of the video lose control of the narrative. Here’s a sticky headline we could use: Catcalling is bullying. Real men treat women with dignity and respect. This message increases the contrast between the current state and the desired future state. We could create an even sharper distinction by cutting out the marginal behaviors, leaving in the most inappropriate behaviors, and adding in examples of gentlemen treating Shoshana like a lady. A meaningful call to action clarifies the most desirable behaviors—the ones that will make the biggest difference in driving change." 

The Russell Martin & Associates' (RMA) realistic approach to project management drives responsibility through clarity using these project scheduling steps: 

  • Clearly and often, tell others what the purpose (return on investment) is for the project. People connect when they knowwhythey are needed.
  • Stop guessing how long a task will take, especially for someone else's task. It's a big lie and disrespectful.
  • Work back from the end date or forward from the start date and ask people if they can be responsible for hitting that date.
  • A schedule contains all the work to be done simply: one task, for one person, due on one date.

View the Project Scheduling webinar recording to drive your own project team clarity

Kevin Eikenberry, author of Bud to Boss (and other books), quotes Richard Bach: "If it's never your fault, you can't take responsibility for it. And if you can't take responsibility for it, you'll always be its victim."

Kevin continues with these suggestions to drive clarity: 

  • When looking at any situation, determine what role you played in it.
  • Look for what you could do differently to improve the outcome next time.
  • Take responsibility and you will create better results. 

For more insight into the differences between management and leadership, check out the ATD Creating Leadership Development Programs Certificate. Upcoming program dates are April 16 in Chicago, Illinois, and May 15 in Orlando, Florida. 


About the Author

Lou Russell is president and CEO of Russell Martin & Associates. She is the author of the ATD Press books Project Management for Trainers, Leadership Training and 10 Steps to Successful Project Management, among other titles. In addition to her many books, she contributes frequently to Computer World, Cutter Executive Reports, and Network World, among others, and publishes Learning Flash, an electronic newsletter.

Lou speaks at several national and international conferences, such as the Project Management Institute, Project World, and LotuSphere. She holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from Purdue University, where she taught database and programming classes, and a master's degree in instructional technology from Indiana University.

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