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Op/Ed

Is there a difference between being a leader or being a manager?

(OP/ED) Some people use the terms “leader” and “manager” interchangeably, but there is still a debate regarding their similarities or differences.

leader vs manager

Some people use the terms “leader” and “manager” interchangeably, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with this, there is still a debate regarding their similarities or differences.

Is it merely a matter of preference, or are there cut and dry differences that define each term?

Ronald E. Riggio, professor of leadership and organizational psychology at Claremont McKenna College, described what he felt to be the difference between the terms, noting the commonality in the distinction of “leadership” versus “management” was that leaders tend to engage in the “higher” functions of running an organization, while managers handle the more mundane tasks.

However, Riggio believes it is only a matter of semantics because successful and effective leaders and managers must do the same things.

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They must set the standard for followers and the organization, be willing to motivate and encourage, develop good working relationships with followers, be a positive role model, and motivate their team to achieve goals.

He states that there is a history explaining the difference between the two terms: business schools and “management” departments adopted the term “manager” because the prevailing view was that managers were in charge. They were still seen as “professional workers with critical roles and responsibilities to help the organization succeed, but leadership was mostly not in the everyday vocabulary of management scholars.”

Leadership, on the other hand, derived from organizational psychologists and sociologists who were interested in the various roles across all types of groups; so, “leader” became the term to define someone who played a key role in “group decision making and setting direction and tone for the group.”

For psychologists, the manager was a profession, not a key role in a group. When their research began to merge with business school settings, they brought the term “leadership” with them, but the terms continued to be used to mean different things.

The short answer is no, the two terms are not the same; simply because leaders and managers need the same skills to be productive and respected.

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