Much has been written about leadership – what it is, what it isn’t, how to be better at it, how to be the best at it.

In today’s world, where the pace of change is so great, where the slightest mistakes make headline news, where only the best of the best truly survive, the role of the leader is important to understand. Strong leadership is critical for business success.

Being a leader requires a combination of natural talent and learned skills, a willingness to learn, and an ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment. All successful companies, large or small, require strong leaders.

What is the difference between a manager and a leader?

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

– Peter Drucker

The difference between a manager and a leader, although sometimes subtle, is extremely important. A successful organization requires both strong managers and effective leaders.

A manager is an “executor”. A manager gets things done through the people that work in the company. They hire; they train; they motivate; they encourage; they plan; they do what it takes to make sure the company objectives are met.

A leader plays a very different role. A leader sets direction. They plan for the future; they create a vision; they inspire; they create clarity around the purpose of a company so that all employees champion it.

In many companies, one person may play the role of both leader and manager. In others, these roles are carried out by different people. And in many cases, the roles overlap and leaders need to manage and managers need to lead. However, it is critical that both roles are performed effectively for a company to succeed, especially a company with employees. Without a vision for the future, a company has no direction and no goals for which to strive. Without “doers” to get things done, a company accomplishes little.

Role of a Manager

Effective managers ensure that the work that needs to get done to achieve the company’s goals gets done.

Basic functions of good managers include:

  • Selecting the right people to work for the company
  • Defining clear expectations for employees
  • Providing training opportunities
  • Recognizing employee performance
  • Providing feedback, positive and constructive
  • Paying attention to employees – show you care

Marcus Buckingham in The One Thing You Need to Know About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success highlights that great managers discover 4 unique characteristics about each employee so that they can truly capitalize on their talents:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Triggers (those things that will truly engage an employee)
  • Style of Learning

Role of a Leader

Leaders are the guiding light of an organization. They define the future. They determine the vision. They rally employees together to work towards fulfilling the vision. They act as a compass for the company. They define the priority – they bring clarity to the future.

Buckingham summarizes succinctly that the key questions all leaders need to ask and define in order to have clarity for themselves and to convey it to their staff are:

  • Who do we serve? Who is your audience? Your target market? Who will buy your product or service? Who are your customers? Who do you need to serve – to provide service to – to ensure that you stay in business?
  • What is our core strength? What is the one thing that your company does better than anyone else? Reaching clarity on this point enables the leader to rally the troops behind something that everyone can get behind: what you are really good at!
  • What is our core score?  What is the key metric which your company measures to tell you that you are succeeding? Profit per employee? Inventory turns? Percentage of return customers? There is no right or wrong answer. There just needs to be an answer.
  • What actions can we take today? A leader is a model of behaviour for the organization. The actions that a leader takes guides the behaviour of others. Leaders must take actions which exemplify the behaviours which they want their employees to emulate. Taking action is the only way to lead to success. Doing nothing leads to simply standing still.

A leader’s primary role is to reach clarity on the answers to these four questions and then communicate it often to employees. Answering these questions serve to provide clarity to you, your employees, and your company as a whole. They make clear the direction you are heading and the actions and activities on whichyou need to focus.

The challenge for all leaders is to determine where your leadership strengths lie – what you are truly good at, what gives you energy. These are your talents. You should create situations for yourself where you can take advantage of these talents. Then determine those areas in which you are not as strong. For these areas, get training and talk to advisors and mentors, to determine if they are areas where you simply require more training and practice, or if they really are areas in which you are weak. Build on your strengths and find people who excel in those areas in which you do not.

The key is to develop an excellent team around you, everyone with complementary skills, who can work with you to achieve your vision for your company’s future. This will be your true leadership test. Good luck!


Copyright 2008 Clear HR Consulting Inc. All rights reserved.