Manager or Leader? I’ll Take The Third Option Please

Have you ever noticed that a lot of organisations purporting to embrace change and innovation end up hiring the same type of people who are the majority cause of their current challenges?

‘Talent acquisition’ is much like the famous [mis]quote by Henry Ford; “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”. By sticking to standard job descriptions and not looking for PEOPLE to fulfill the leadership’s vision, companies will get what they ask for, and not what they need.

I’ve never seen a job description yet (that wasn’t written by me, FOR me) that did not set me up for failure before I even began. There are people much better at certain things than me, and who may actually enjoy doing them, why would you give those things to me?

Worst of all, above a certain level of seniority, you wind up being lumped into one of two categories, and if you’re REALLY unlucky, both; Leader and/or Manager.

What if you’re neither?

Here’s a little experiment I conducted:

I typed; “books on leadership” into Google and got >271,000,000 hits. If even 0.1% of those are ACTUAL books, that’s 271,000 books on leadership, some of which may even have been written by a true leader. Possible, but unlikely.

Then I typed “books on being a manager” and got >170,000,000 hits If I apply the same criteria as above, that’s another 170,000 books to plough through.

Finally, I typed “books for neither a manager or a leader” and these are the top 5 hits;

  1. 3 Things That Separate Leaders From Managers – Business Insider
  2. Managers and Leaders: Are They Different? – Harvard Business Review
  3. Why All Managers Must Be Leaders – Forbes
  4. Leaders and managers, leadership and management … – CIPD Courses
  5. Why Managers Can’t Lead and Leaders Can’t Manage

OK, so I’ve completely tipped this in favour of the point I’m trying to make, but not ONE article on the first 5 pages of hits gets close to what I’m saying, which is;

People who are very good at what they do don’t need to be a Leader or a Manager, they need a great leader in whom to believe, and great managers to get the right people on board.

My favourite phrase on leadership is on www.despair.com; “Leaders are like eagles, we don’t have either of them here.”. The same could be said for managers, both leadership and managing people are talents not skills, and the really good ones are equally rare.

What if the skills you need, even temporarily, are actually in someone who’s neither?

A good leader has specific attributes that VERY few people have (hence LEADer I suppose), and I truly believe leadership is not something you can learn.

A good manager is, to me, someone who can recognise the talents and skills you HAVE, not the ones they either a) think you might have, or b) want you to have, or c) need you to have for the job at hand.

Focusing on these 2 senior-level talents ignores the vast array of other talents that require neither of these attributes to provide enormous benefit. Call them subject matter experts, gurus, trusted advisors, or a whole host of meaninglessly clichéd names, what you get is the same; someone who can take the leader’s vision, and translate it into something the managers can act upon. Leaders usually can’t manage, managers should rarely lead, and neither has the necessary talents / skills / knowledge to bring the vision to life.

So if you have failed at fulfilling either of these roles (as I have many times), maybe they are not for you. But what you DO have could be of equal importance, if you know what it is.

No one likes to think they’re not a good fit for a senior position, but there’s little reason to extrapolate one or two bad ‘corporate’ fits into the rejection of an entire line of opportunities. Just make damned sure you ask the right questions up front. No you can’t guarantee an honest answer, but hopefully you’ll know pretty quickly if they sold you down the river.

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