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Career advice: What separates leaders from managers?

Mujib Lodhi | Feb. 5, 2014
Premier 100 IT Leader Mujib Lodhi also answers questions on keeping abreast of technology and the value of certifications.

Mujib Lodhi
Company: Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission

I'm a good manager and have been told so repeatedly in performance reviews. What more do I need to become a leader? This is a great question. Let's explore the differences between a manager and a leader.

In general terms, a manager controls and manages processes, projects and budgets and has a well-defined role and assigned group of subordinates within the organisation. There may be little or no need for vision in order for a manager to succeed.

The approach of a leader is the opposite. A leader conveys a vision of the future or an end state, sets boundaries and targets, knows his team and their capabilities well, and empowers them to perform by providing guidance as needed along the way. For this to work, the leader must have a strong team with the right skills that he or she can trust to do the job on time and on budget, without the day-to-day oversight a manager might be compelled to provide. The key difference is that the team you have assembled must follow your lead rather than await your directives. They must not only be skilled but sufficiently impassioned and self-motivated to succeed on your behalf out of respect for you, rather than fear for maintaining their jobs. An exceptional leader will also gain followers beyond the boundaries of the organizational hierarchy to support your vision, as long as it is a vision they can believe in. To do that, always remember that a leader cannot "buy" followers through incentive programs. Followers must be earned through a process of mutual respect.

Additionally, a leader is not generally defined by a job description and doesn't need to be in a defined leadership position to succeed. In reality, such positions are pretty rare outside of the executive suite. For this reason, your performance reviews will not normally reflect the somewhat intangible traits of great leadership, as most organizations base performance measures on the more finite, quantifiable attributes of management. I bring this up to warn that your initial efforts in becoming a well-respected leader will not necessarily be recognized at the time of your next performance review. But be assured that the journey is well worth the extra effort.

While some people take to a leadership role more naturally than others, leadership can be learned, if you open your mind to it. The first step is to recognize that there is a difference between being a manager and being a leader. By simply asking the question above, you show that you have already begun to focus your efforts in the right direction. Relative to IT business environments, the following steps can act as a guide to transforming yourself from good manager to great leader:


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