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The Difference Between Leaders and Managers

"Don’t tell me you had a wonderful meeting with me. Tell me what you’re going to do on Monday that’s different." -- Peter Drucker

“It has become popular to talk about us being over-managed and under-led. I believe we are now over-led and under-managed.”~Henry Mintzberg, Simply Managing: What Managers Do—and Can Do Better(Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013)

Much has been written about the difference between leaders and managers.

“Leaders are people who do the right thing,” noteleadership experts Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith in Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader (Basic Books, 2003). “Managers are people who do things right.”

As they further explain: “To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion. The distinction is crucial.”

While this distinction is correct, it has unintended negative effects. Some leaders now believe their job is about coming up with big ideas. They dismiss executing these ideas, engaging in conversation and planning the details as mere “management” work.

Worse still, many leaders cite this distinction as the reason why they’re entitled to avoid the hard work of learning about the people they lead, the processes their companies use and the customers they serve.

What Managers Actually Do

According to traditional management theorists, managers are supposed to plan, organize, coordinate and control. In truth, the pressures of reacting to urgent matters supplant most reflection and planning.

Managers respond to daily crises, take on too much work, operate with continuous interruptions and make instant decisions. They have no time to step back and consider bigger issues—a problem that often causes them to act with superficial, fragmented information.

In a classic November 2003 Harvard Business Review article, “Manager’s Job: Folklore and Fact,” Mintzberg outlines 10 daily management roles that fall within three broad categories:

1. Interpersonal Category (3 Roles)

a. Figurehead. You represent your group to your organization and the community at large.

b. Leader. You hire, train and motivate employees.

c. Liaison. You maintain contact with colleagues and stakeholders outside your immediate chain of command.

2. Informational Category (3 Roles)

a. Monitor. You leverage your personal network to scan the environment for vital information.

b. Disseminator. You feed information to subordinates who lack your access to critical data.

c. Spokesperson. You provide information on behalf of your unit to senior management and outside organizations.

3. Decisional Category(4 Roles)

a. Entrepreneur. You initiate projects to improve your unit’s processes or profits.

b. Disturbance Handler. You manage crises precipitated by employees, customers, suppliers, systems or accidents.

c. Resource Allocator. You decide who will get what, coordinate the impact of interrelated decisions and allocate managerial time.

d. Negotiator. You use strategic information to resolve grievances, establish contracts and promote shared decisions.

If you want to improve your managerial skills, take a good look at what actually happens each day:

  • How do you spend your time?
  • n which activities are you engaged?
  • Are you really operating in all 10 pivotal roles?
  • Where do you need help?

5 Effective Managerial Mindsets

Mintzberg further describes five critical managerial mindsets:

  1. Managing oneself (reflective mindset). A reflective mindset allows you to be thoughtful, examine familiar experiences in a new light, and set the stage for developing  innovative products and services.
  2. Managing organizations (analytical mindset)An analytical mindset ensures that you make decisions based on in-depth data.
  3. Managing context (worldly mindset)A worldly mindset helps you operate in diverse regions, with the cultural and social insights needed to serve varied customers.
  4. Managing relationships (collaborative mindset)A collaborative mindset fosters relationship-building among the individuals and teams who produce your products and services. Instead of managing people, focus on managing your relationships with them.
  5. Managing change (action mindset)An action mindset energizes you to create and expedite the best plans for achieving strategic goals.

Expecting managers to excel in all five managerial mindsets misses Mintzberg’s point. Managers are people, not superheroes. But when they’re at least somewhat familiar with each way of thinking, they can more easily recognize which skills are needed and appropriately switch mindsets.

The Care and Feeding of Managers

CEOs who wish to retain top managers need to see them as important resources and nurture them accordingly. Managers are the single greatest factor in retaining employees (Gallup Organization, State of the American Workplace, 2012).

CEOs should provide their managers with development opportunities and professional coaching. Companies that offer coaching enjoy marked performance improvements—not only from managers, but from those who report to them, as well.

Executive coaching grants managers time to practice introspection, which is necessary for ongoing learning. Job pressures frequently drive managers to take on too much work, encourage interruptions, respond quickly to every stimulus, seek the tangible and avoid the abstract, and make decisions in small increments. Effective managers consciously deal with these pressures.

Becoming a More Effective Manager

Conquer the challenges associated with managerial demands by developing introspection skills and insights:

  • Be aware of which roles you naturally prefer. Don’t ignore those that make you uncomfortable. Stretch beyond your usual limits.
  • ·Be sure to disseminate information to others so you can delegate more and help your people grow more self-sufficient.
  • Avoid the traps of superficial decision-making because of time pressures. Make use of other experts and analysts.
  • Schedule time for the tasks you believe are most important. Don’t let daily pressures crowd out time for reflection, innovation or other critical values.

Are you working in a professional services firm or other organization where executive coaches provide leadership development to help mangers improve their managerial skills? Does your organization provide executive coaching for managers who need to learn about the people they lead, the processes their companies use and the customers they serve? Enlightened managers tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more fulfilling future.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Are our people over-led and under-managed?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching to help leaders develop more effective teams.

John Lennon once said, “Life is something that happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” Of course, you can listen to Woody Allen, who famously said: “Half of life is just showing up.”

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help managers be more effective. You can become a leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.

Working Resources is a San Francisco Bay Area Executive Coaching Firm Helping Innovative Companies and Law Firms Assess, Select, Coach, Engage  and Retain Emotionally Intelligent Leaders; Executive Coaching; Leadership Development; Performance-Based Interviewing; Competency Modeling; Succession Management; Culture Change; Career Coaching and Leadership Retreats

...About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach
Trusted Advisor to Senior Leadership Teams

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist and executive coach. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies select and develop emotionally intelligent leaders.  Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

“Maynard Brusman is one of the foremost coaches in the United States. He utilizes a wide variety of assessments in his work with senior executives and upper level managers, and is adept at helping his clients both develop higher levels of emotional intelligence and achieve breakthrough business results. As a senior leader in the executive coaching field, Dr. Brusman brings an exceptional level of wisdom, energy, and creativity to his work.” — Jeffrey E. Auerbach, Ph.D., President, College of Executive Coaching

For more information, please go to, write to, or call 415-546-1252.

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