The Real Difference Between Leaders And Managers: One Is Going Extinct

The Real Difference Between Leaders And Managers: One Is Going Extinct
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It's popular to make a distinction between "managers" and "leaders." For example, if you were to type "difference between managers and leaders" into Google, you'd get over 20,000 results. (Try it out.) People love to discuss and debate this statement.

It's also one of those things consultant-y people like to say to sound a little smarter.

"Well, there's a difference between managers and leaders, you know."

As the traditional thinking goes, managers "manage" things. They tell people what to do, and when to do it. They insert themselves into the process to make sure everything works exactly they way they need to. They make sure tasks get done.

Without managers, presumably, the people being "managed" wouldn't know what to do. They wouldn't be able to figure out what things to work on, how to best spend their time, or when to show up at the office. ("Now where did I put my brain again? I know it's around here somewhere... oh, that's right; I leave at home.")

Now admittedly, sometimes people use this distinction to illustrate some good points. But I've found myself bristling at this manager/leader contrast for quite some time without any sense of why it frustrated me so much. Recently I got some clarity, and it boils down to this: the duties we typically put on the "manager" side when we make the distinction between "managers" and "leaders" simply need to go away.

In the emerging economy, these "managing" activities don't actually create any real value, and in fact, are costing you -- quite a lot, it turns out.

Let me be very clear--the behaviors we associate with "management" aren't just depreciating in value, they're pushing your company in the exact wrong direction. Here's why: in order for our organizations to be more competitive, they need to be increasingly quick to adapt, more creative and innovative, and better at engaging everyone's brains in solving complex problems. "Managers" bottleneck a company's ability to do all these things, because the whole philosophy of management is based on the terribly outdated notion that people are stupid and lazy and need to be monitored accordingly.

When managers try to "manage," they are effectively in the way of enabling people to do the exact things you need them to do.

In other words, the technology of "management" is an woefully outdated operating system--it's Windows 95 trying to compete in an iOS/Android world.

Leadership, on the other hand--this is something we need a LOT more of. We have always needed, and will always need, courageous people who are willing to stand up and boldly lead us somewhere important.

This is why it's vital we start actively helping "management" die--so something dramatically better for your company can take its place.

What do these kinds of leaders look like? You've almost certainly seen them around, just maybe not as much as you'd like in your company... perhaps because we tend to be so obsessed with creating more "managers."

Leaders don't care all that much about specific tasks--they care about outcomes.

Leaders clear the cruft and cultivate clarity for everyone's day-to-day work.

Leaders inspire others to become the best version of themselves.

Leaders remind us why our work matters deeply to our customers.

Leaders paint vivid pictures of the future and help us get excited to go there together.

Putting people in a box called "manager" makes them think they ought to do the opposite of all those things--that they should "MANAGE."

The reality is that "managing" is going extinct--and it should. It's costing your company (lots of) money, it's costing you innovation, and it's costing you engagement. It's also helping you retain all those people you don't really want to keep... but that's an issue for another article.

Let's let management go.

Josh Allan Dykstra is a recognized thought leader on the future of work and company culture design. He is the Co-CEO of Forte, a consulting group that helps organizations and leaders leverage the power of a strong culture, and Co-CEO of Strengthscope U.S., the exclusive distributor of the Strengthscope® product suite in the United States. He co-founded The Work Revolution, a movement/advocacy group that promotes life-giving work environments for everyone, and has an eclectic work background that includes projects with organizations like Apple, Sony, Genentech, Microsoft, HTC, and the University of Southern California as well as startups and nonprofits. He holds an MBA in Executive Leadership from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and his latest book, Igniting the Invisible Tribe: Designing An Organization That Doesn't Suck, is available on Connect with him online at

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