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True leaders focus on empowering others to rise up.

What makes a leader? And what distinguishes a leader from a manager? Easy questions to answer, right? When I ask my clients at the start of a leadership development program, they often don’t know. Even in the context of an upcoming or recent promotion into a new management role it’s usually not something they have thought about. 

Here are the main differences: 

  • A manager maintains stability; a leader embraces and promotes change. 
  • A manager sets a goal; a leader creates a vision.
  • A manager draws on a defined skill-set to execute tasks; a leader expands through personal growth. 
  • A manager collects and disseminates information; a leader expands their own and other people’s thinking. 

One important difference that especially new leaders can be unclear about is this: a manager ensures that tasks are getting done correctly, timely and according to plan; a leader considers autonomy, competence and relatedness. They realise that helping people fulfil these core human needs as they do their job contributes significantly to motivation and wellbeing. 

Let’s add another (simplified) distinction and consider the differences between the old and the new leadership mindsets. While both include delegating tasks and giving people the opportunity to excel at what they are doing, the old model is much more concerned with maintaining power, control and replicating an existing system. Like many inexperienced young leaders, old-school leaders often manage people like tasks. They expect that their instructions are followed to the letter and carried out as specified.

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