The Difference Between Leaders and Managers

Kotter argues that leadership and management are complimentary yet different. He believes that organizations that develop and promote leadership skills will out perform those who emphasize management skills since organizations with leaders will be able to adapt to the changing market place.

My multinational business experience in Europe confirms that organizations who emphasize leadership skills are greatly valued. The Turkish organization, while a less developed organization than others in Europe, was known as a breading ground of global leaders. The country manager, like Kotter describes, gave young managers the opportunity to lead teams, then laterally moved them to other departments in order to broaden their exposure and experience in developing strong leadership skills rather than deep departmental skills.

This example demonstrates the value of leadership skills. Still, leadership is only one role that a manager plays and not a completely separate skill set. I disagree that “people cannot manage and lead” (Kotter, 2001). While the leadership role may be growing in importance, the other management roles are also important. Without balance a leader/manager may not fully benefit the organization. For example, long term planning certainly needs the vision of a leader, but management skills must also be used to organize the teams in ways to meet that vision. Furthermore, a leader/manager must have the communication and motivation skills to align and motivate, as well as the organizational and team building skills to ensure the team is organized and developed in ways to meet future challenges.

Because I see leadership as one of the roles a manager plays, I consider myself a leader/manager and not one or the other. In all the leadership roles I have been given I have needed leadership skills to lead the people as well as skills to manage the business. The two roles are not mutually exclusive.

Kotter, J.P. (2001). What leaders really do. Harvard Business Review. 79(11), 85 – 96.

Yukl, G. (2006). Leadership in organizations (6th edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/ Prentice Hall.

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