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Leadership Qualities Differ from Management Titles

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This post comes from Michigan State University and Bisk Education. Vijay Harkishnani works for Bisk Education and writes about topics such as leadership and management for Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business.

From the outside, a leader and a manager might look like similar roles. They may even perform the same tasks, such as preparing budgets, overseeing teams, supervising projects and solving problems. But under closer observation, it becomes clear that leadership and management are not two different terms for the same thing. In fact, there are a number of distinctions that separate leaders from managers — and it’s much more than the title on the door.

Qualities of Managers vs. Qualities of Leaders

Perhaps the biggest difference between leaders and managers is that leaders have followers, while managers have subordinates. This distinction results from different approaches to work and relationships:

  • Managers are authoritative: Companies need managers to plan, organize and control business operations and the people hired to do the company’s work. Managers are paid to get things done efficiently and to maximize workforce productivity. Subordinates perform the work given to them by management because that’s what they are paid to do.
  • Leaders are inspiring: Leaders are charismatic and caring. They have a positive impact on the organization by inspiring others to do good work, improve themselves and contribute to the greater good. Leaders are often personally invested in the success of their followers. Workers perform their jobs both because they are being paid to and because they want to.

In other words, in order to accomplish the organization’s goals, managers control others, while leaders inspire others. So, how does a manager become a leader? It takes the right tools and strategies.

Leadership Strategies and Tools

Even the most motivated managers with the best of intentions cannot take on leadership roles without the right strategies and tools. Otherwise, they remain stuck in the manager role, spending their days organizing others’ work and executing others’ plans. To become leaders, managers must amp up their efforts and shift their thinking. They must become more strategic.

Strategic leadership involves learning as much as possible about the organization, its product or service, the industry, the marketplace and the competition. Then, aligning that information with the mission and strengths of the organization will help define the strategy for success. Communicating the vision to the entire organization will create an emotional connection and achieve the buy-in necessary to accomplish the strategy.

Keep in mind that developing a strategic leadership approach requires a solid tool kit with a variety of skills and qualities that can be accessed as conditions demand. Some of these skills include:

  • Self-awareness: Leaders take responsibility for their own actions and mistakes, reflect on their own abilities and shortcomings and take stock of their performance.
  • Honesty: Strong leaders are forthright and honest. With high ethical standards, they earn the trust of their followers and peers.
  • Positive outlook: Taking on challenges, learning from failures and seeing the possibilities in the future are hallmarks of good leaders.
  • Open-mindedness: Great leaders consider and learn from the ideas of others and are not afraid of trying new ways of doing things.
  • Innovation: Strong leaders offer new ideas and help others to do the same. They manage change so that it’s embraced, not feared, and they create an environment where innovation thrives.
  • Collaboration: Leaders know that working with others brings more success and greater reward than trying to accomplish everything on their own.
  • Communication: Above all other skills, great leaders are great communicators. They have the ability to listen carefully to others, read their emotions and respond appropriately. Through thoughtful communication, leaders make people feel heard and cared about.

Fortunately, the strong skill set required for leadership success can be learned and developed. In fact, the best leaders continuously work to improve their abilities and grow – often through leadership courses, certificate programs or a master of science in management strategy and leadership degree program.

Transition into Leadership

While it’s true that many leaders are managers, you don’t have to be a manager to become a leader. Whether you’re a small-business owner, a midcareer executive or just starting your career, you can obtain the education and experience to develop strong leadership skills that will have others looking up to you and following your vision. Why not start on the path to reap the rewards that come with being a true leader?