Over the past few years there has been a growing discussion over leadership styles, with various writers phrasing the issue as “Boss vs Leader”. For the purposes of this article, in order to keep clearly defined terms, the argument will be phrased as “Manager vs Leader”. Within the article the term “manager” will be used to denote persons responsible for guiding an organization. There are several good reasons why this is an appropriate nomenclature, all of which will become more evident as the discussion progresses. The terms Boss, Manager, and Leader will be defined and described as to how they fit within an organization. The graphic below will serve to initiate this discussion.
The above picture is ubiquitous on the Internet, it comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colors, and decorations, but the information is the exact same. As can be quickly observed, most of the differences are based strictly upon charisma and personality. How does the term “Boss” fit into the structure of an organization? For the various Internet authors, “Boss” is used as a pejorative to denote anyone lacking in personal charisma. Anyone holding a position of even the slightest authority can be called “boss” by their co-workers; therefore the term itself becomes vague and generally useless for the purposes of this discussion. A “manager” is defined as someone with a formal position within an organization (from assistant supervisor to CEO or business owner) who has the responsibility and authority to carry out the duties of that position. A manager derives authority because of his official position. A “Leader” is not an official position; rather it is someone who people desire to follow because of perceived personality and character traits.
There is a legitimate question of how effectively managers lead their organizations through their personal mannerisms. Some issues are quite obvious; nobody wishes to hear their supervisor or company executive exclaim “You need to do what I tell you because I’m the boss around here!”, nor does anyone wish to experience abusive or condescending behavior in the workplace. It is assumed that astute managers desire a harmonious work environment in which their employees can be motivated to work at their full potential.
The study of management and leadership began during the late 1800’s, the University of Pennsylvania has the distinction of being the very first university to offer a degree program focused in this field. The early researchers began their examination by looking at the different characteristics of military and business leaders. They were able to discern different tasks or functions that are common to all authority figures or “managers” in carrying out their duties. The Five Functions of a Manager, as any business school student can recite, are as follows: Plan, Organize, Direct, Control, and Communicate (Many authors use the term “Staffing” as the fifth function; however, for several good reasons, I prefer to use the term Communicate). How a manager carries out these various functions is the basis for this discussion of Boss vs Leader.
Each of the Five Functions of a Manager requires a different set of skills and knowledge, and different people will approach them in different ways. Below is an explanation of each of the terms.
- Planning: CEOs and business owners must decide on the future of their organizations by carefully planning in advance. Hypothetically, the CEO of ABC company decides to expand operations into the Southern US. The CEO will issue a statement to the effect “We find opportunity in the South, and expect to expand operations soon.”
- Organize: After plans are decided upon, managers must organize resources (both personnel and material) in order to reach whatever plans or goals have been made. Continuing from the previous example, the CEO of ABC company decided to expand operations to the Southern US. The CEO must now organize company assets by hiring additional employees, moving assets to the South, leasing office space, or doing whatever else is needed to accomplish the company’s goals.
- Directing: This can also be called Commanding or Leading, the manager directs employees by issuing orders. How a manager goes about directing employees is of the utmost importance, and it will depend on a great many factors. For example, the CEO of IBM directing the Vice-President of Finance to sell some stock in order to raise working capital will use a very different sort of language than the manager of a fast food restaurant directing a rebellious teenage employee to clean the bathrooms.
- Controlling: Managers control their company’s resources in order to ensure goals are being met. This is another area in which everything will depend on the situation. The manager of a car dealership may control employees by setting quotas. For example, an underperforming employee may be warned “If you don’t sell three more cars by the end of the week, you’ll be looking for a job”. A manager may have to address an employee that’s being distracted by personal issues. Example “Get off the phone, and pay more attention to your work”
- Communication: A manager must communicate constantly, both internally to employees and to external stakeholders. The most successful and effective managers are able to communicate very effectively.
Given the various functional areas of management, and the wide spectrum of organizations and circumstances, it is clear that different managers will be focused on certain of the Five Functions. From the examples above, the CEO of a large company will be focused almost exclusively on Planning. Organizing, and Communicating, with little time to Direct or Control employees and assets. A department manager at the local department store will be focused on Directing and Controlling, with little opportunity for anything else.
Taking into account all the information discussed above, it becomes apparent that an individual manager will adjust their management style depending on the situation. Generally speaking, there is no one with an absolute personality of evil Boss or saintly Leader; everyone has some mixture of both personality traits and everything will depend on a given situation. It should be emphasized that the best leadership style is the one that is appropriate to the situation and will motivate employee to reach their fullest potential.