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Managers Are Not Leaders

A short and sharp post on the weird confusion of leadership. I feel we use the word ‘leaders’ when too often we mean managers.

Some managers can be leaders but not all and some don’t want to be. Yet so much time and effort is spent by HR and senior executives on programs to build leaders and then aim them at the management team. All the coined phrases in management forums or management get togethers about being ‘better leaders’ mistakenly stereotypes the two things as one and sets unfair expectations on all managers. I have witnessed many awkward conversations or team meetings where the manager, clearly uncomfortable, tries to portray themselves as strong leaders using all the techniques out of training courses for better leadership. Worse still we see managers who assume leadership by virtue of their title and misrepresent what leadership is all about and become dictatorial and stubborn.

Thats not to say exposing all managers to leadership development is a bad thing, I think everyone can benefit from improvement in these skills, but that does not nor should not make them be tagged as leaders.

For me leadership and ‘building leaders’ should be treated separately from management and managers. I want my leaders to emerge, I want the populous to choose who they follow and are inspired by, I want leaders to be diverse and many in number, not limited to hierarchy and role responsibilities.

So the questions I would pose are:

  • How do we allow leaders to emerge and inspire?
  • How do we help managers to better manage and operate the business to success?
  • How do we provide an environment where individuals feel empowered to be great and do what matters to customers without any dependancy on a manager? (Given that empowerment is not something that is ours to give!)

My experience has shown that the true answer lies in knowing what stops these things from existing today. Then once we know, let’s go about removing it.


About Gary O'Brien

A Principal Consultant with 20 years experience in ICT and a diverse background as an IT Business Strategist and People Manager. I specialise in helping executives, teams and individuals to adopt and improve Agile methods, principles and practice. Using a strong emphasis on facilitating organizational change, and the role of management and leadership in an Agile world. As an Agile Coach I look to help teams adapt Agile and Lean thinking to their specific environment and impediments they face. Experience includes working with CIO’s and senior leaders to create and execute a vision and strategy for and adopting Agile as an enterprise approach to improving outcomes for delivering customer value and optimising IT.


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