Managers are not necessarily leaders

June 26, 2003
By: Steve Benson

Often we are told that leadership is the key to the success of any business or organization. What is leadership? Is it the same as management? And what separates would-be or so-so leaders from world-class leaders?

There are business leaders and there are business managers. And while some leaders are managers and some managers are leaders, many times leaders and managers are very different animals. All too often we fail to recognize these differences in our businesses' day-to-day operations.

Many U.S. companies are among the best-managed in the entire world. But when it comes to business leadership, we still have much to learn. We now have in place throughout the Western manufacturing industry an entire generation of mid- and upper-level managers whose sole goal is to preserve the current systems and to keep things the way they are, which is not the nature of leadership.

Leadership requires the creation of new systems and the vision to see something new, something beyond the status quo. Being a leader means taking calculated risks. Most managers instead focus on maintaining the status quo.

Leaders think outside the box and disrupt the status quo. They search for better, more efficient ways to do things. It is this type of thinking that can create dynamic teams and accomplish the goals you have set forth for your company's future. This is the kind of thinking that can move mountains. Leaders inspire, move, and remove multiple layers of management within an organization, shifting responsibility, forcing out the nonproducers and rewarding those who are the producers.

Leaders fully understand the value of self-management and self-motivation. They understand the value of empowerment.

Key Differences

Leaders have followers; managers have employees.

Leaders empower and inspire their followers. Managers only maintain command and control, many times to excess, thereby uninspiring employees.

Leaders do not seek stability, they look for flexibility.

Leaders set the course, inspiring their followers to solve their own problems and make their own decisions. Leaders teach their followers to be leaders in their own right and to better themselves, their companies, and those around them. Managers make decisions, solve problems as they arise, and give orders.

Leaders are always looking for better and more efficient ways of doing things. A manager just accepts the organization's makeup and culture and does all that he or she can to cement the company's status quo.

As leaders we always need to be looking for ways to access the brain trust we employ—the know-how and everyday skills of our people. Unfortunately, even the best of managers don't do well with this type of task, but leaders do!

Turning Managers Into Leaders

To empower and inspire our managers to become leaders, we must go beyond hiring people with only fundamental management skills. We must look for candidates who exhibit a great deal of character and possess above-average leadership qualities in addition to management skills. The real challenge is one that we all face, at all hiring levels in any organization—where to find them. And we must be able to recognize them when they are sitting before us.

Good leaders share many of the same characteristics and attributes. If we look closely enough at management candidates who possess leadership qualities, we will find these attributes:

  • Leaders have vision and are able to communicate the vision to others. Effective communication is as important as the vision.

  • They have integrity and are more concerned with doing the right things rather than what is expedient. Integrity is essential for a leader to have followers.

Leaders also understand that trust is a two-way street. They must trust in themselves and their employees and they must earn their employees' trust. Leaders let those around them know and feel the commitment they hold for each employee and the organization. Leaders show their loyalty to the employees, the managers, and the company as a whole to earn the employees' loyalty.

The Most Profound Differentiation

The most profound differentiation between managers and leaders is the general unwillingness of managers to lead. They often are unable or unwilling to make the tough and unpopular decisions necessary and instead follow the path of least resistance. Many times this is the result of the manager's lack of leadership qualities. In other cases, it's the result of a manager being managed by a manager, usually a micromanager, rather than a leader.

Taking Stock

Leaders and managers, if your company isn't doing as well as you'd like, or if morale is low, look first to yourself and see how well you measure up to your leadership role. Are you an inspiration or a demotivator? Do you possess integrity and hold your employees to the same standards? Do you empower your employees or micromanage? Do you have a vision that you've communicated effectively to your organization? Are you a leader?

Steve Benson

Steve Benson

2952 Doaks Ferry Road N.W.
Salem, OR 97301-4468
Phone: 503-399-7514
Fax: 503-399-7514
Steve Benson is a member and former chair of the Precision Sheet Metal Technology Council of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International®. He is the president of ASMA LLC, 2952 Doaks Ferry Road NW, Salem, OR 97301, Benson also conducts FMA’s Precision Press Brake Certificate Program, which is held at locations across the country. For more information, visit, or call 888-394-4362. For more information on bending, check out Benson’s new book, The Art of Press Brake: the Digital Handbook for Precision Sheet Metal Fabrication, © 2014, available at