Leader vs manager

The man in the street often is unable to distinguish the difference between leaders and managers, often citing that these people are the ones who seem to be on top of the situation. In fact, in common street language, the term “manager” is often cited as a symbol of respect for one deemed to be of a higher strata of society. Street vendors, for example, will address a fairly well-dressed person as “manager” to be able to open a dialogue to sell their wares.

There is, however, a marked difference between “manager” and “leader”.

In today’s highly automated and computerized world, managers can deploy men and resources in isolation through computer-based commands, in many cases, not even having any sort of personal contact with the manpower deployed. Nowhere is this more apparent in the case of modern-day fund managers, whose skills set is in analyzing masses of diverse business and non-business data to arrive at a buy or sell decision of the resources managed.

At the press of a button, he is able to trigger a set of actions for dozens of traders in the floor or in other computers to buy, sell or otherwise hold on to resources. There is very little physical interaction involved in the execution of their duties and responsibilities.

So it is with many others in this increasingly automated world.

The missing link between leader and manager is the social and socialization dimension. A manager may not be the best option to lead a Seal Team Six in a life--death mission. He may not also be the best option to lead a nation under attack, since a leader has the task of both inspiring and rallying people and troops to triumph over adversity.

Leaders are especially needed when times are difficult and where the attainment of success is centered upon a concerted group effort. This situation is most apparent in sports, like basketball where a player leads and inspires his teammates to victory, as typified by Sonny Jaworski leading the Barangay Ginebra of old, or Michael Jordan leading the Bulls to victory. This makes it easy to distinguish between a leader and a manager.

This is not to say that one is better than the other. The need for a leader or a manager depends on the situation. Drawing up battle plans is probably best left to managers and specialists, but leading the battle is definitely on the person who displays leadership and people skills. In today’s business environment, many people with a superb set of technical skills are usually hired as “specialists”, and are infrequently placed to lead people. However, some evolve into leadership roles.

Then there is the subsidiary issue of whether leaders and managers are born or trained.  In this nature versus nurture issue, when it comes to manager-type skills, I opine that nurture and training play a very large role. However, when it comes to leadership, my opinion is that nature rather than nurture or training plays a key role.

Training only awakens the traits that were already placed by nature. There is some evidence in the study of wolves and other social mammals that an alpha is born then trained for the role.  At this point, however, this argument is not yet conclusive.

Like all things used to achieve objectives, leadership and management need to have a moral dimension to have a desirable human end. Leadership, for example can be used to develop a desirable end, such as the leadership of Pope John Paul II, who inspired Catholics worldwide to embrace a more inclusive Catholicism. On the negative side, it could be the leadership of an Adolf Hitler who led the German nation in the slaughtering of about 6 million Jews.

In the same vein, management can be a positive for society, such as the excellent educational management skills of the Jesuits, who have established excellent institutions of learning worldwide. Another example are the Seventh Day Adventists, whose hospital management skills have established excellent centers of healing worldwide.

The flipside of management skills is the Bernie Madoff scam where billions were bilked in a massive fraudulent scheme. And so on it goes.

The Philippines is badly in need of genuine leadership, and for this I need not say more.

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