Leaders vs. Managers

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Leaders and Managers

I remember when I first distinguished leadership from management. That distinction has been most helpful for me and it has allowed me to identify characteristics in people that qualify them as one or the other (or both).

A manager maintains order and structure. This involves enforcing and complying with policies, rules, and guidelines. Managers play a big role in aligning resources with strategic goals. Facilitating resolutions for conflicts is part of a manager’s duties. Managers play important roles in organizations, but they are not necessarily leaders.

Leaders are looked to for inspiration. They are visionaries who strategically cultivate an environment that enables them to develop their vision.Leaders have the ability to identify patterns and know when it’s the right time to act.  Leaders cultivate growth in their colleagues. They step out of the limelight to recognize the achievements of others.

The Leadership Problem in Higher Education

I find it interesting that individuals who hold senior positions in an organization are referred to as “leaders.” This is often far from accurate. In higher education, most senior positions are crafted to be management roles, which is unfortunate because management roles are often not good fits for some leaders. But we need more leaders in higher education. Desperately.

Transformative leaders are those who possess the ability to change mindsets. They are charismatic. They draw people in and make them want to be part of their cause. Martin Luther King Jr. was a transformative leader. Can you think of another?

When a transformative leader is hired into a position in which s/he is expected to be a manager, his/her skills may go unused or worse, the leader may feel restricted and be unfulfilled.  Institutions of higher education need to cultivate more positions that are crafted for leaders, as opposed to managers. Leaders are key to challenging the status quo and bringing change to an organization.

It’s also important to note that leaders are present in all types of positions throughout an organization. So why is it that we refer to people in senior roles as “leaders” when they often are not?

Two Leaders I Admire and Learn From

I am fortunate to work with two leaders who are very different from one another but have both deeply influenced me. Working closely with these two individuals for the past many years has taught me a great deal  about leadership.

Michael Berman is creative. He is a musician. He takes incredible photographs. He has a sense of humor.  Michael is the kind of leader who does something because it’s the right thing to do.  He respects an organization’s culture and understand that this respect is key to bringing forth meaningful change. Michael cares of about people and encourages others to make their health and family a priority ahead of work. He is a leader who makes people feel appreciated.

Jill Leafstedt is a master facilitator. She connects people and creates space for conversations. Jill is keenly aware that communications improve difficult situations and alleviate defensive routines. Jill observes interactions and engages when and if necessary. She is aware that silence is an important part of dialogue. She reads body language and respond accordingly. Jill leads by shining the spotlight on others.

Michael and Jill are unique from one another, yet they have characteristics in common. They trust their colleagues. They are kind. They are direct in their communications. They address issues when they arise. They take risks and learn from their failures.

Great leaders model leadership skills and, in turn, make more great leaders.

Thank you, Michael and Jill.

4 Comments to “Leaders vs. Managers”

  1. Debra Goheen

    Michelle, I love your distinctions between managers and leaders. Boy, are you right on the mark there. Thank you so much for your inspiring post.


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