By right of mere definition, there are qualitative differences that can already be identified between the distinct concepts of leaders and managers. On the one hand, a leader is commonly accepted as a person exuding “a commanding authority or influence” over a certain group of people or organization (Merriam-Webster). In itself, the connotation is non-restrictive. For apart from the need to possess a respectable level or latitude of authority over a select group of people, there are no additional or extraordinary qualities that are being required for one to be relegated or recognized as a leader. The concept pertinent to a manager on the other hand connotes a specific relegation of task given to a person, possessing considerable latitude of authority as well. A manager is tasked “to manage”; i.e., he or she is called upon to “supervise” or put into “judicious use” certain means available in order to “accomplish” a task (Merriam-Webster). But in many contemporary organizational setups – within business companies or any cause-driven outfits – there has been a tendency to refer to top-level management team as leaders. With permitted curiosity, it needs to be thus asked: is this correlation tenable?
Leaders and Managers: Are they really the same?
As previously mentioned, leadership connotes more of an authority, without prejudice to the unique manner by which such authority is to be exercised. George Bush for instance may be recognized as a leader by virtue of the power vested upon him by the American constitution and the unique manner by which he executes directions and rules to govern the country. The Dalai Lama and the Pope are themselves leaders as well; and so is the revolutionary Che Guevarra or the pioneering Bill Gates. These persons exude an authority. But in their own unique ways – be it on account of some heavenly ordained powers or moving ideas – they are able exercise an authority closely tied up with the equally admirable manner by which they command esteem, obedience and respect. The concept of leadership thus pertains more to the quality of authority rather than one’s success in the field of governance to achieve a task.
Because of the more charismatic, if not diverse connotation of leadership, not a few thinkers have in fact pointed that any organizational scheme, which considers its management team as leaders, undermines the very concept of leadership all together. True, both leaders and managers exert a degree of authority to prompt directions for a company or an organization. But A. Zaleznik for instance notes that the two terms are definitely not equivalents. He contends that managers are “dedicate(d) to process, structures, roles, and indirect forms of communication” in order to achieve the task, say, to lead an organization towards greater profitability or success, assigned to them (Zaleznik, 1977). They are inherently bound by the rules governing the operation of an organization. Their parameters are clearly set; their tasks are categorically delineated. In most cases, they need to level their personal creativities against the backdrop of manageable risks involved in any strategic decision. Thus, Zaleznik believes that managers, because they are significantly limited by the need to ensure that “day-to-day tasks must be done”, hereby “relinquish their ability to think…(as they merely) adopt slogans and formulas instead of developing the arts of self-examination that stimulate the imagination as well as toughen analytical thinking” (Zaleznik, 1989, p. 3). Leaders, Zaleznik contrasts, are motivated not by the need to obey existing job-descriptions, but by the need to “inspire subordinates and fire up the creative process with their own energy” (Zaleznik, 1977).
Key to further understanding their distinction perhaps lies in the degree of creativity one is able to put into effective use. Leaders’ ideas or decisions are too often marked by a striking originality that can bring about fruitful changes. Their success, it was also argued, results from the effective manner by which they put into use their creativities, “rather than rather than by following established precepts, without sufficient thought to context and circumstances” (Williams, 1998, p. 8). With thoughtful consideration therefore, it seems that one cannot readily consider managers as leaders all the same.
But even while managers must not be considered – outright, that is – leaders, there are also good reasons to think that even managers themselves can at times be leaders by their own right. It is also possible to consider managers as leaders, contends Williams, if certain things are met; i.e., when management teams commit themselves to “transformational vision”, do their task with an equivalent touch for human “relationships” and networks, “involve” themselves to continuing learning, and “continually expand” their horizons towards more progressive development, they can well be regarded as leaders just the same (Williams, 1998, p. 9).
By Way of Conclusion: Can leaders and managers be one in the same?
This paper ends with a thought that extrapolates on whether it is possible for one to become a leader – that is, one is moved by the practice of fundamental creativity in one’s exercise of authority – and manager – that is, one is moved by the duty to do tasks in one’s exercise of authority – at the same time. The answer could be both yes and no. It is firstly a no since at first glance, the concepts pertaining to both leaders and managers seem to be mutually exclusive; leadership is a category distinct from management. On the other hand, it seems to be possible as well. If managerial teams are able to pour in a considerable amount of their creativity and personality despite the pre-arranged conditions set to be followed, then they too can be considered leaders as well. In the end, the issue all depends on how managers choose to tread the unique path of their governance styles.
leader. (2008). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
Retrieved July 7, 2008, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/leader
management. (2008). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
Retrieved July 7, 2008, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/management
Williams, M. (1998). Mastering Leadership: Key Techniques for Managing and Leading a Winning Team. London, Thorogood.
Zaleznik, A. (1989). The Managerial Mystique: Restoring Leadership in Business. New York, Harper and Row.
Zaleznik, A. (1977). “Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?” Harvard Business Review. Retrieved 07 July 2008 from, http://harvardbusinessonline.hbsp.harvard.edu/b01/en/common/item_detail.jhtml?id=R04 01G&referral=2342