The Influential Leader

Updated: Dec 2, 2019

Most, if not all of you will agree with me that not all managers are leaders, but all leaders possess management skills. In our society, managers abound but leaders are few and far between. Seeking to gain an introspective into this paradigm over the years, I observed various individuals in positions of management and leadership in order to determine the differences between the two.

Experience has proven that leaders are more likely to break the status quo to bring about change, while managers are comfortable operating in familiar territory. Although he may be unpopular to certain governments and segments of society, in the context of being a catalyst to change, I believe that Fidel Castro was the consummate leader, albeit at great expense to his country, Cuba.

Despite tough sanctions from the United States of America (USA), Mr. Castro ruled his country for over forty seven years and outlived nine US Presidents. Fidel was dissatisfied with the gap between the rich and the poor in his native Cuba and so led a revolution that overthrew the government. Not long thereafter, he was shunned by the USA who planned a subsequent failed invasion against him in 1961 according to BBC News.

The standoff continued until recently when the administration under former President, Barack Obama chose to reopen the borders between the two nations. Evidently, Castro believed in his cause and demonstrated this by sticking to his principles and his staunch refusal to acquiesce to the demands of the US Government.

So the question becomes, does the individual have to be popular and accepted by all to be considered a leader? To answer that question I compared the following world leaders; Barack Obama vs. Donald Trump (USA), Pierre Trudeau vs. Justin Trudeau (CDA), Idi Amin vs. Nelson Mandela (Africa), Tony Blair vs. Margaret Thatcher (UK). Popular or unpopular, these individuals are still considered leaders.

On a smaller scale effective organizational leadership seems to be reserved for a few outstanding persons. Having being employed in over ten industries in the span of my twenty year corporate career, I have experienced management at all levels. Of the over fourteen managers that I reported to, only five would have earned the title of leader in my humble opinion.

In his definition, Fagiano (1997) says “A classic definition of management is getting things done through other people. This definition implies that the manager is superior in talent or ability”.

A leader must share knowledge completely with all the others (in a team) in order to create an effective team. “By sharing his or her knowledge the team can fly great distances”. These definitions fit my perception of management and leadership based on my own experiences.

For example, one previous manager whom I consider a leader had the unquestioning loyalty and respect of a team of fifteen staff. Laura (name changed) went beyond simply assigning tasks to her team but also provided a meaningful link between the projects and the strategic direction of the company. This way staff felt that they were assigned a valuable project that would have an impact on the business. Laura’s staff blossomed and was always willing to accept a new challenge and possessed great decision-making abilities. In addition, she was a terrific mentor and confidante for certain members of her team.

Contrast Laura with another manager (Sofie) who, when asked, could not articulate the strategic direction of the company to her staff. Sofie’s staff complained that they were unsure of the purpose of most of the tasks they were asked to perform and whether or not they are benefiting the company. Sofie assigns tasks almost daily and micromanagers her staff to frustration. Consequently, her staff has a healthy mistrust for her and is not confident in her abilities.

Sofie’s staff is at best junior because they are not trusted with decision making and are only assigned tasks that could be described as menial. Instead of focusing on strategic management, Sofie prefers to perform day to day tasks that should have been delegated to her staff.

Experts say there is an overlap between management and leadership in most organizations. Colvard (2003) opines, “we often talk of management and leadership as if they are the same thing. They are not. The two are related, but their central functions are different. Managers provide leadership, and leaders perform management functions. But managers don't perform the unique functions of leaders”.

He goes on to describe the differences between a manager and a leader as follows:

  • A manager takes care of where you are; a leader takes you to a new place.

  • A manager deals with complexity; a leader deals with uncertainty.

  • A manager is concerned with finding the facts; a leader makes decisions.

  • A manager is concerned with doing things right; a leader is concerned with doing the right things.

  • A manager's critical concern is efficiency; a leader focuses on effectiveness.

  • A manager creates policies; a leader establishes principles.

  • A manager sees and hears what is going on; a leader hears when there is no sound and sees when there is no light.

  • A manager finds answers and solutions; a leader formulates the questions and identifies the problems.

  • A manager looks for similarities between current and previous problems; a leader looks for differences.

  • A manager thinks that a successful solution to a management problem can be used again; a leader wonders whether the problem in a new environment might require a different solution.

Leadership and influence go hand in hand. The descriptions of leadership presented certainly confirm this theory. Therefore it is safe to say that being able to influence others is another trait that is lacking in managers. The roles are not dissimilar since an outstanding manager may be considered a leader.

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