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Do You Think Like a Leader or a Manager?

By William P. Fisher, Ph.D.

As you may know, there is considerable discussion in the literature and at various forums about factors that distinguish a “Leader” from a “Manager”. Many people make no distinction, assuming that a person in a management position must be a leader as that is inherent in the position. Such people confuse “positionship” with “leadership”, for the mere occupancy of a position does not guarantee real leadership. Perhaps you have known a person who had a lofty position (and title and trappings to go with it) who was not a leader and every subordinate knew it. In reverse, some people consider a leader to be a good manager, believing that, by definition, a leader must have superior management skills. Such people confuse “vision” with “process” which are entirely different concepts. Perhaps you have known someone who was a visionary, but did not have particularly good management skills. Certainly it is ideal if one person embodies all the qualities of leadership and management, but such individuals are rare. Most of us “lean” toward one function or the other (right brain/left brain theory) but we can and do “crossover” and back from time to time. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note a few of the characteristics that distinguish “leadership thinking” from “management thinking”.
  • Managers tend to focus on the immediate situation as they function in the present and are usually measured in this way. While they are peripherally aware of the future, they really don’t spend a lot of time contemplating it. Leaders, on the other hand, do look to the long term, realizing that the present is a fulcrum future direction and results. If they were chess players they would be thinking several moves ahead. Leaders mostly think strategically, managers mostly think tactically.

  • Managers focus on the process of management and immediate efficiency more than leaders do. Leaders think about how they invest their time creatively and surround themselves with, and develop, the strongest talent so that those talented people can grow and do more and more over time. Leaders believe that if they do so, their people will do a better job of watching and improving the processes than the leader could do himself or herself.
  • Leaders understand that compensation is a satisfier, not a true motivator. Once this satisfier is in place at an acceptable level, people are motivated by the nature of the work, the challenges, opportunities to learn and grow, and whether or not their bosses support and care about them. Managers, on the other hand, often think of their subordinates as responding best to financial rewards and incentives. Did you ever know people who hated their jobs even though they were highly compensated? Many managers also project, perhaps subconsciously, that “I am officer material” and subordinates are “enlisted material”.
  • Someone once said that “Managers get work done through other people,” but leaders “develop people through work”. Since leaders need to know what “makes people tick”, they want to know a subordinate’s long term goals and aspirations so they can fashion ways to combine personal goals with the work at hand, as well as the organization’s goals. The current buzzword for this is “alignment”. For any given project it may be less important to know people’s long term goals, but for organizational growth and success it is necessary over a period of time. Leaders tend to be contemplative and social, managers are often impatient and mentally preoccupied.
  • Leaders recognize that individuals are motivated differently and so consistency is not an absolute virtue in their recognition of people. Some people may like public praise, others may appreciate the opportunity for more flexible time, for example. Managers emphasize systems more than they do people or personalities. Many manages do not recognize that a policy is not a regulation and “hide” behind policy when a vexing situation arises, wherein the right thing to do is to deviate from established policy.
  • Managers tend to think more about what has been done before and try to make incremental improvements, while leaders like to challenge themselves and their people to bring out their best in ways they never thought possible, so quantum leaps can occur. They establish new paradigms.
  • A manager’s priority, from which he or she usually derives the most satisfaction, is based on process and efficiency. “Getting it done” is their byword. Leaders enjoy success too, of course, but tend to revel in it more when it leads to growth of individuals and the organization. Their greatest satisfaction comes from having others who succeed them rise to greater heights than they did.
  • Leaders use time as a reward and seek to invest their attention where it can have the most upside impact. People usually have the most opportunity to grow and become truly great where they already demonstrate strong performance, and so leaders tend to avoid remedial projects or the constant oversight of weaker performers. Instead, they spend more of their time with the people most likely to bring the greatest advances in the future. Managers tend to focus more on problems to solve than they do in boosting people to previously unachieved excellence. Leaders are “fire lighters” (passion), managers are “fire fighters.”
  • Leaders try to get to know people and understand them in a personal way without being invasive or inappropriate. They evidence compassion as well as objectivity in their decision making. Many managers tend to be more “cut and dried” in their working relationships, which can be perceived as insensitivity. Leaders “think with a cool head and a warm heart, not a hot head and a cold heart.”
  • Some of the best managers are very good at studying “best practices” and ways to “build a better mousetrap”. Leaders tend to look for more of the “Einsteins” and star performers who are likely to find a better alternative to eliminating mice than the snap trap. Leaders possess and look for creativity. Managers are more conformity minded.
  • Leaders are all about finding and cultivating talent and are not threatened by it. Managers usually want to feel more in control of their surroundings, not the least of all because highly talented people can be very independent and often “difficult to manage”. Leaders often have stronger social skills than managers do and are better prepared to deal with strong egos. Many managers lean toward inflexibility.
  • As headstrong as many leaders can be, they know from experience that being headstrong can be a liability, and they have learned to listen and be accepting of other’s points of view. Managers may be more focused on what they believe to be the “right way” to do something and may be less open to hearing divergent views. Leaders may not always enjoy hearing opposite views, but they evidence the concept of “let the best idea win.”
The foregoing is not “cast in stone”, of course. There are few people who are “complete leaders” and few who are “complete managers”. Regard these characteristics as being on a scale list as it is important to know which is which. Think like a leader when leadership is called for, think like a manager when management is required.

William P. Fisher, Ph.D., a member of Cayuga Hospitality Advisors, is the Darden Chair in the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.  A former CEO of the National Restaurant Association and the American Hotel and Lodging Association he is the recipient of numerous awards including the CHRIE Educator of the Year and the Michael E. Hurst Award for Educational Excellence, and is a Diplomat of the National Restaurant Association's Educational Foundation.  An author and noted speaker, he serves on corporate boards in concert with his consulting assignments.   A former U.S. Air Force Officer, he is a graduate of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. He is also a member of Cayuga’s Food and Beverage Advisory Services Group

Reprinted with permission from Cayuga Hospitality Review.  All rights reserved.


Cayuga Hospitality Advisors

Also See: A Wake Up Call, The Shadow of 9/11: Terrorism and Premises Liability for Hotels / Carroll Dubuc / September 2009

You Need to Reset Your Exit Strategy / Jim Burr / September 2009

The Electronic Guestroom / Jules A. Sieburgh / September 2009

LEADERSHIP: The Basis for Management / William P. Fisher Ph.D. / September 2009

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