Leadership Follies – Leader, Manager, or Blueberry Pie

Dilbert's Boss

Message – there is a lot of talk today about the difference between leaders and managers.

  • “We need managers to lead!”
  • “Leaders inspire!”
  • “Leaders create, managers do”

Maybe the problem is the titles themselves.  There is such a bad connotation about managers…

We are trying to fit a new concept into old roles.  People that lead other people in organizations today require skills that traditional leaders, managers and supervisors did not have or need in the past.

We need to concentrate our energy on developing those skills and NOT picking at titles.

Or we might as well just call them “Blueberry Pie.”

Management vs. Leadership

Why do we care so much?

Recently, I viewed a discussion on LinkedIn titled Leader vs. Manager – What is the difference?

There were a number of answers given that expounded on the importance of leadership. It conveyed that managers “managed” and leaders “lead.”

There were all kinds of accolades and positive qualities given to leaders and an overall bad connotation to managers.

Why Does it Matter

Why are we talking about this?  

What does it matter what the difference it between these two arbitrary and relatively meaningless titles?

Who's your leader?

After decades of research and mountains of books about the topic, there is little, if any, evidence that determining this has made an ounce of difference to organizational productivity, profitability or engagement.

It does, however mark a very important point – the current nomenclature for people that lead others is antiquated and does not fill the needs of the 21st century organization, team or employee.

Although it is interesting and allows us (myself included) to pontificate about the importance of leaders, leadership, leading and being leader-like, it really adds almost no value to organizations.

Something definitely needs to change.

Just the Facts

Employees, customers or shareholders don’t care about titles.  

They want results!

The ugly truth is that, for the most part, key stakeholders of any organization don’t give a flying hockey puck about the difference between managers and leaders.

They are concerned about results.

Each stakeholder group is concerned based on their own perspective, but it is not the title that concerns them. It is the action and resulting outcome that matters.

  • Employees are looking for people that they can trust and are sincerely looking out for their best interest.  They want someone that they can learn from and will create a work environment that seeks to utilize their very best.
  • Customers want to be given the very best product or service. They want to be proud of using the company’s product.  They also want to trust that the company upholds a set of values that are simpatico with their own.
  • Shareholders care about short-term and long-term company results.  They want to know that the company is going to be growing over time to deliver repeatable superior results AND can deliver  great short term results that showcase their savvy in selecting the company’s stock in the first place.
  • The want to trust that these results are derived in a manner that are ethical and will not cause fraud or criminal charges.

Next-Gen Leadership

Its time for something NEW

Advocates, coaches,  (or some other great title) in the 21st century need to:

  • Provide guidance
  • Allow for accountability
  • Drive results
  • Stress innovation
  • Be a great communicator and connector
  • Tell Stories
  • Be giving
  • Be passionate
  • Brings new perspectives and confronts threats head on
  • Seeks new solutions outside predictable areas
  • Open-minded and curious about their environment
  • Mobilizes their company to take advantage of new market opportunities
  • Views business as a networks of communities and works across boundaries
  • Uses collaboration and partnerships to maximize sustainable growth.

Our Common Purpose

Meeting the needs of these stakeholders requires a variety of skills and knowledge.  Each one, likely, will be served by a different group of individuals, but it is critical that their skills align and drive towards the common purpose of increasing profit, productivity and engagement.

What is the best thing to call these people? Coaches, supporters, drivers?  Honestly it is not clear.

But it IS NOT a manager and probably shouldn’t be a leader either.

There needs to be a concerted effort to ensure that we focus on the skills needed and NOT the titles.  Instead of trying to differentiate between terms that are not useful any more it is time for something new.  We need to promote individuals that can make our teams more effective and organizations more productive.

Titles are so 20th century.  The more quickly we accept that and move forward, the better.

Do you think there is a real need to differentiate between managers and leaders?  What is the benefit of understanding the differences? What should we call these folks in the future?  What attributes do we need to ensure they have?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Anil Saxena
 is a President & Senior Consultant Cube 214 Consulting
He helps organizations create environments that generate repeatable superior results
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Blog | (847) 212-0701

Image Sources: doheth.co.uk, iceberg.braxis.org

6 responses to “Leadership Follies – Leader, Manager, or Blueberry Pie

  1. I think you are 100% right. I hope to live that way. I know I have not had a title on my business card since the 70’s. That is because I read Peter Drucker and he said that the title just implies the responsibilities you have. Then I thought it was a totally useless thing to write on a small card with very specific information address, phone number etc.
    I will go so far that I say the problem is that we have developed organizations which are unnatural. We have historically been working in small teams that have cooperated as need be (see the agriculture society). Yes, for Henry Ford’s assembly line and complex products it worked fine. Now we are no longer in need of those simple repetitive jobs. We have robots for that.

    It is time for smaller organizations again.

    Those organizations can cooperate as required and in a very flexible way. Thus we will free ourselves from all the dead meat in our large organizations – public and private. It is not possible to effectively spread a vision to 100,000 employees in an organization. That a radial distribution of the message should work is not anybody’s belief. Just make the old “telephone game” test and let ten people convey a message 2 sentences long by whispering in each others ear and ask the last person to tell what was the original message. We have all done it and it works about as well in large organizations. Therefore we need many many leaders or blueberry pie if that is a better word. Forget about managers. Let us have leader’s that manage and lead and are accountable, with very small teams.


  2. Anil — Brilliant! I think (titles aside) we need leaders who can manage, and managers who will lead. I think that’s what every stakeholder is looking for, and it puts me in mind of a quote that I can’t think of w/out picturing Mother Teresa: “The authority of your example should always outweigh the power of your position.”

    If that were true of all “managers”, this would certainly be a better world, and work would surely be more engaging, rewarding and productive. Great post!


  3. Anil, I think your points are well made. Unfortunately we need a means to communicate what people in “leadership” positions are supposed to be doing. One of my clients uses the term “people manager” to describe a front-line supervisor role. I think this term is interesting because it implies there is more to managing than making sure reports are in on time, and that the inventory is taken correctly. I think the value a person brings to a senior position is the point of the discussion, and that every organization must focus on how to create the best environment to encourage people to be the most engaged.


    • Mark – I couldn’t agree with your comment more. People manager is a fine title just as long, as you so correctly noted, the person filling the role is expected to create an engaging environment. What do you think we should be doing to promote that?


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