Are You a Manager Or a Leader?

If you don’t know the difference between management and leadership, you’re part of a major problem that’s only going to get even worse.

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Are You a Manager Or a Leader?

Leadership isn't just something you can look up in the dictionary. You need to see it in action.

We’re in an era where most everyone with any sort of seniority has the word “manager” in his or her business card title. But how many of those managers actually show leadership skills or even the potential for them?

Too often, the people we assign as leaders end up being nothing more than managers. It may seem like a subtle difference, but to those who are being either led or managed, the difference between the two is quite profound.

I sat in on a roundtable discussion at the recent Carousel Industries AlwaysOn Symposium, where Carousel VP of carrier services Tim Kennedy served as moderator of the thought-provoking discussion about the difference between leaders and managers.

You should be looking now for the next generation of leadership. Do you have the right people in place and the right elements to attract them?

“You don’t necessarily have to manage people to be a leader,” Kennedy told the group of about 20 people in the room. “The org chart may show someone is a leader, but the real leader may be someone else.”

Leaders, says Kennedy, focus more on people, have vision and bring out passion. Managers, on the other hand, focus more on tasks and making sure those tasks get done (say it with me) on time and on budget.

A boss tells other people what to do, while a leader focuses on how the team can achieve its goal(s).

“Getting input makes people feel more engaged and helps them to care more,” says Kennedy. “There’s a difference between getting thrown through a wall by someone and wanting to run through that wall for them.”

So, if you’re someone who was recently promoted to a position with “manager” in the title, what will you do to make sure you’re engendering that kind of passionate support from the people you oversee?

Leadership in the AV workplace

Here’s another thing about leadership: it can’t be forced or faked because people can see right through that. A leader, says Kennedy, knows when to give direction and when to decide for themselves. While you can certainly learn how to be a manager in business school or from a best-selling book, being a leader is often something you either have inside you, or you don’t.=

That doesn’t mean someone you least expect to develop into a leader can’t eventually do so, but it’s certainly a rarity. This industry —and many others — are littered with leadership-centric events, including the NSCA Business and Leadership Conference, USAV’s NexGen Leadership Conference and the InfoComm AV Executive Conference.

Each of those events is highlighted by sessions from prominent national speakers who talk about how they overcame an obstacle or helped others achieve unexpected and sometimes unparalleled success. As someone who’s attended many of these events in 6 ½ years at CI, I know attendees often leave these events inspired to make changes, if not overwhelmed by the amount of leadership advice they received in three days.

What we don’t see is what happens from there. How many of those tips and tricks and pieces of advice turn into action items once the conferences are over? We know of at least one example where an NSCA event had a profound effect on a company’s direction but is that the rule or the exception?

Locating a Leader: A Lot Like Baseball?

Finding the next generation of leaders is a lot like figuring out which minor-league prospects you can afford to trade to help your team increase its chances of winning a World Series. There’s some guesswork involved, but true scouts will be able to figure out the youngsters with the most potential.

From there, it’s about nurturing that talent, making sure they don’t leave you for a competitor and ensuring the board of directors and others in the C-suite agree with your assessment. There are a lot of moving parts in turning a potential leader into the next great young CEO and someone we’d include on our annual 40 CI Influencers Under 40 list, but it happens all the time.

Just make sure you’re not hyping up a great manager to be the company’s next great leader. You’ll be gravely disappointed if you confuse the two, and your entire company will suffer for it.

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About the Author


Craig MacCormack is a veteran journalist who joined Security Sales & Integration in June 2023 as web editor. He is also the former executive editor of Commercial Integrator (2011-2021).

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  • Harry Jones says:

    Something not addressed in this article is that fact that most small company CEOs are “bosses” rather than leaders. Further, their often autocratic, dictatorial management style is not conducive to creating leaders, but simply followers/doers (often of the sycophantic variety). As a service provider to small businesses, I see this all the time. Employee turnover is a problem because younger people in particular chafe under this management style. I had a conversation about this with one of my clients (owner of the company) recently and his response was, “I’ve always done it this way and I’m not going to change”.

    • D. Craig MacCormack says:

      Thanks for your comment, Harry. I do agree with you that, in small businesses, the sheer numbers sometimes limits the opportunities for CEOs and others in charge to develop their talent and get them ready to take over the company someday. Big companies are not immune from this, though, and it’s important for companies of all sizes to not only be thinking about today and tomorrow but 5, 10 and 20 years from now too.

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