A sentiment that you’ll often hear echoed in the conversation of leader vs. manager is that leaders ideate and managers execute, or some variation of that. It’s a very important distinction, but both sides of the coin are equally essential to nurturing success among employees and in an organization as a whole. Without the vision and imagination of strong leaders, someone to come up with the big ideas and visualize success, companies will struggle to innovate or to take hold of their industry. And without effective managers, the organization will fail to take the shape that the leader envisions. In essence, the leader is the architect and the manager is the builder.
But of course, the separation between leading and managing is not so cut and dry. After all, it’s not like the role of leading falls solely on the CEO, and it’s not like members of the C-suite are always exempt from managing those directly below them as well. There are many cases in which a leader must act as a manager, and a manager must act as a leader.
Of course, it doesn’t mean that managers have to decide the direction of the whole company, or that leaders have to highlight every specific point of their process. Ultimately, it just means that higher-level employees must maintain openness and flexibility as they go about handling their responsibilities. Managers must learn to be creative and take risks, and leaders must understand how to execute their own plans.
With that being said, how do you balance the two ideologies? When the need arises, what does it take to merge them into one method, one plan? Here are a couple points to consider:
For leaders: When an idea comes, consider the logistics
If a leader doesn’t have a thorough understanding of how their business works, they’ll be unendingly frustrated at their inability to follow through on ideas. In these kinds of scenarios, the worst thing they can do is to blame managers and teams for not executing properly. But if leaders understand their company’s processes, and have an idea of how each piece the puzzle fits into their plan, they’ll be able to refine their ideas into something that works, and perhaps even exceeds expectations.
If leaders have an idea for a new product, they must ensure that it is within their technological capabilities — they should also consider other factors like testing, production, marketing, and so on before having others help flesh it out. Or if they have a plan to improve efficiency or productivity, they should be mindful of disrupting the natural flow of the workplace. Being a visionary is about more than reaching for the stars — it’s about taking what you have and making it shine just as bright.
For managers: Think outside of the box when putting the pieces in place
In the ideal setting, what makes the relationship between managers and leaders is, simply, trust. Leaders have a vision, and they trust managers to help make that a reality. Hopefully, leaders are able to provide a solid framework for managers to build from, but even so, there are a lot of tiny moving parts that are at managers’ discretion.
For instance, perhaps when forming teams for your employees to work in, you might get creative and find setups that encourage higher engagement and collaboration. Maybe instead of putting two software developers together, pairing a developer with a marketer may produce new ideas and better final products. Or, you might discover a new practice that will cut time spent on certain parts of a project. It’s always best to run these kinds of ideas by one’s superior, but managers who have earned a leader’s trust are able to take matters into their own hands use their own vision to improve processes and create better outcomes.
To reiterate, this by no means is a call for managers or leaders to take on both roles all the time. Building a successful organization is fundamentally a collaboration — it’s a process that relies on each person to do their role and do it well. It’s just important to note that, well, things don’t always necessarily work out that way. Being prepared to lead and to manage no matter the circumstance gives you strength and can be pivotal to your career development.