The false dichotomy of “leader vs. manager”
When we first developed Teamworks, we had a small debate about whether to call our customers “leaders” or “managers.” Ultimately, we decided to go with “managers,” because it was important to let you know that Teamworks isn’t just for folks who live in the C suite. Yet something about that decision has always felt unsettling. It plays into the misguided idea that you can’t be both.
At SYPartners, we’ve never been fond of false dichotomies. (You’ll often hear our project teams exclaiming, “It’s an AND!”). But even we have been guilty of using the old “leader vs. manager” trope in our consulting work. It’s an easy provocation — “Are you a manager…or a leader?”
The problem with the “leader vs. manager” dichotomy is that it does everyone a disservice. It casts leaders in the role of disconnected visionary and reduces managers to the part of pragmatic administrator. It gives each side permission to ignore the responsibilities of the other — or to outsource those duties to someone else.
Being the CEO shouldn’t mean you’re off the hook when it comes to the growth and development of your direct reports. And just because you’re in the middle ranks of a company doesn’t mean that your team isn’t looking to you for big picture thinking and inspiration.
We believe that people who are responsible for work beyond their own — and responsible for the people who do that work — should strive to be both leader and manager. Yes, it’s an AND.
Great managers should lead in a way that…
- Elevates the team’s ambition
- Removes obstacles from the team’s path
- Pushes the team to defy gravity
And great leaders should manage in a way that…
- Balances aspiration with practicality
- Takes the nitty-gritty details into account
- Produces clarity and coordination
We know it’s a tall order. Few people are naturally gifted at all these things. But let’s aspire to see “leader” and “manager” more as two sides of the same coin than as entirely different forms of currency.