Steve Jobs — Great Leader and Manager

The Manager Versus Leader Role: The Essential Differences Between The Two

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women are players: They have their exits and their entrances. And one man in his time plays many parts.” — William Shakespeare As You Like It)

Throughout life, we will be called to play many roles. Two of the most important work roles relate to that of leader and manager. These are the two key roles one must play on the stage of business. 

“A competitive world has two possibilities for you. You can lose. Or, if you want to win, you can change.”  — Lester Thoreau, Dean, Sloan School of Management, M.I.T., 60 Minutes, February 7, 1988 

Feel the Future is Uncertain? Want to Nail Down a Path Through the Fog of Confusion?

The world changed in December of 2022 with the launch of ChatGPT. Whether you like it or not, businesses are employing AI in every industry and just about all jobs performed by those who went to college. 

Hundreds of millions of employees will find the way they do their work drastically changed. The same goes for entrepreneurs and business owners. 

There is a way to map a course into the future — it’s called SKILL MAPPING.

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Don’t be a bit player. Get future ready and map our the roles you need to play on the stage of business. 

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What Are Social Roles?

All societies have social roles. Some of these roles exist across the generations.
All societies have social roles. Some of these roles exist across the generations.

To understand work, it’s helpful to look at a social role. This is not the thing you eat, unfortunately. A role is a fairly standardized behavior. Technically, a social role is, “An expected behavior for a given individual that relates to social status and social position.”

In a family environment, a woman plays the role of mother, aunt, sister, daughter, grandmother, lover, etc. as she goes through life. A man will play complementary roles including father, uncle, son, brother, and so on. It’s important to understand that one also plays a role at work.

Typical Business Roles

“Some leaders cannot manage — some managers cannot lead.”

A manager is a business social role
A manager is a role played in many business situations

To cite one example, The Dictionary of Occupational Titles has thousands of roles listed. In a professional category such as engineering, medicine, and law, there are a number of specialty areas.

In fact, certain roles function almost like a class. These include employees (or workers), managers, executives, entrepreneurs, investors, and stockholders. Within the executive class, we have c-level roles such as the CEO, CFO, CIO, CM), CLO, COO, and so on.

You Cannot Management People

Many are confused about when to manage and when to lead. Even b-school professors talk as though leadership and management are the same things. But fundamentally, they are very different.  This was discovered a few years ago while doing on-site training in Total Quality Management.

As part of a class exercise, participants were asked for a definition of Total Quality Management. Everyone got total right and there was even good consistency regarding quality. However, when it came to management, participants were all over the place. This confusion extends into business schools.

Managers think differently from leaders. A manager’s mindset is formed in b-school professors who rarely are leaders. Here is a video from an interview with John Scully who discusses what happens when there is a conflict between the manager role (played by Scully and the visionary leader role, played by Steve Jobs)

Role Confusion

In fact, professors tend to lack clarity about the fundamental differences between what a leader does and what a manager does. You can still hear them speak about the importance of “managing people.” Actually, most people don’t like to be “managed” but if you lead them, they will follow you anywhere.

The Manager and Leader Role
Typically leadership and management functions do not overlap. In some cases, such as project management and delegation they do.

One way to understand leadership and management is to imagine two Venn diagrams. Most of the time, the two do not intersect. However, certain activities require both outstanding leadership and management skills. One example is a project manager. One must ably manage the resources available for the project while exercising leadership skills to build a strong team. Another example is delegation. 

However, certain activities require both outstanding leadership and management skills. Three examples:

Project manager. One must ably manage the resources available for the project while exercising leadership skills to build a strong team.

Delegation. Essentially, one must plan what to do and persuade someone to do it.

Change Management. One can management putting a new light bulb into a socket.  However, real organizational change has both a leadership and a management component.

One institution that never got the differences between management and leadership confused is the U.S. military. One person who clearly knew what she was talking about was Grace Hopper. An interesting lady, she started in the Navy Waves in WW II and retired as a rear admiral. One story about her goes:

In the early days of computers, there was a great deal of mechanical parts and relays. One day her engineers and programmers got into a big argument about whether the software was wrong or whether the hardware was messed up. She went pulled off a back panel and found an insect crawling in the electronics. This led to the words, “There is a bug in the computer.”

Another saying attributed to her was, “It’s better to seek forgiveness, than to ask for permission.”

Defining The Two Major Business Roles

“I don’t like to be managed. But if you lead me, I’ll follow you anywhere.” — A comment heard in the halls of a large corporation

The Management Role: What They Do — The Skills Used

Management focuses on work. We manage work activities such as money, time, paperwork, materials, equipment, etc. Planning, organizing, controlling, directing, and coordinating are often listed in the management 101 texts as the major functions of management. Certain conceptual skills such as decision making, strategy development, and problem solving seem to fit better in management verses the leadership area, but you can go either way.

Some professors like to say “Managers are decision makers.” but that doesn’t seem quite right. A better description is, “Executives are decision makers — manager’s are problem solvers.”

Some things should be managed and other things should not. For example, people should not be managed — it implies we treat them like things. Leadership, though, is a completely different set of mental processes

The Leadership Role: What They Do — The Skills Used

Leaders focus on relationship more than task and can transform groups into teams. Leadership has an essential focus on people and how to influence them. You might say managers have plans, but leaders have vision. One can add to the list leadership activities such as: counseling, coaching, teaching, and mentoring.

To be a leader, one needs an exclusive set of human relations and interpersonal skills. Its essence is able influence. To influence one needs a number of component skills. Some are fairly easy to develop — others take a long time to perfect. For example, it’s easy to learn authority but learning charisma takes a really long time.


“No one talks about managing fun and play.” — Anonymous

It’s vital for senior executives to be able to play both roles; for the boss who cannot manage will kill an organization just as fast as one who cannot lead. But the person who can both lead and manage, is on the path to success.

Quote: Underperforming organizatoins are uusually over managed and under led.

For More Information

Kotter, Phillip (2013). Management is Still Not Leadership. Harvard Business Review Blog Network, January 9.

Harvard Business Review Articles on Leadership   

Harvard Business Review Articles on Managing People

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