S1:E22 – Who Are You? Leader – Manager – Both

S1 E22

In this episode, Bridgette and Irvine explore the distinction between being a leader and a manager and asking if there really is such a sharp difference. 



Don’t forget to check out Irvine’s You Tube channel with new videos every Wednesday on emotional intelligence, resilience, and leadership.

Check out Irvine’s new book Leadership Lessons From The Pub.

Check out Bridgette’s book which she co-authored with Bod Duggan  Resilient Leadership 2.0.

And as always, don’t forget about all the mind-blowing free resources some of which are mentioned in each episode. 


Bridgette: Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Resilient Leadership Podcast, where everything we talk about is aimed at helping you to lead with a greater sense of calm, a greater sense of clarity, and a greater sense of conviction. And I am joined today by one of my favorite people, Irvine Nugent, my co-host and collaborator. Irvine, tell me how you’re doing today.

Irvine: I am doing well, actually. Thank you very much. I’m in a reminiscent state of mind; I had two very dear friends visiting me from the UK, originally from Ireland. And so, you know what happens when you have friends who you went to college with, all of these memories are shared and all of these wonderful times and how our relationships came together. So, it’s been a wonderful few days of me, kind of, thinking about the past. How about yourself, how are you?

Bridgette: I’m doing very well, thank you. Got to see my grandson this weekend. I have three beautiful grandchildren, but my newest grandchild, who’s just a little guy, eight weeks, got to see him, that’s always fun. Hey, you know what I’m wondering, Irvine, since you had friends visiting from Ireland, did your accent come out more this weekend while you were around them?

Irvine: It, totally, did. And Fred, my husband, when he was around us, actually, had to poke me a little bit and said, What did they just say? What did they just say? And we were all, kind of, in the moment, so it may come out a little bit more in the podcast today, just saying.

Bridgette: I love it. I welcome it, totally. Well, we have an interesting topic on tap today, don’t we?

Irvine: Absolutely, yes.

Bridgette: I like the way that we’re phrasing this. It’s a question. So, who are you, a leader, a manager, or both?

Irvine: Yeah. It’s such a fascinating question, because these distinctions between, are you a leader or a manager? They’re a given. We use them all the time, both when we study leadership and it’s language that we use in organizations, and when we think about it, a manager, normally, is seen as the person who’s responsible for the day-to-day operations. They have people who report to them, they oversee work; they make sure all of these projects are running smoothly.

And then, we use the word leader at times for this person who creates this vision that people follow, they inspire, they direct with authority and intelligence, and they help people be confident, and so these are part of our world. And yet, I think in this episode, what we want to explore is, are they, really, a given? And is that distinction something that’s helpful, that still is relevant in the world of work today? And so, Bridgette, as we begin, I’m just, really, curious; you work with so many different clients in different levels of organization, different organizations, different levels within the organization. I’m curious what’s come up for them in this distinction that we’ve made between leader and manager?

Bridgette: Well, I was just thinking about how, oh, I think it was, maybe, a week and a half ago, I was having a conversation with a client, she manages a group of managers in an organization, and she said to me, she asked, would I do a workshop for them? She goes, because they have to lead leaders and I want them to cultivate leadership in these managers, and it’s essential that they do. And I said, Okay, so these are managers, and so you want to cultivate leadership. What does that mean to you? Because I was just curious.

And there was a long pause, and it turned out that it was only in conversation and reflection that we, finally, got to a definition of what it was she was after, what she wanted to strengthen in these group of managers that reported to her. And it causes some confusion, doesn’t it? Because we just throw these terms around like, Oh, well, we know what that means, but in point of fact, it means something different depending on who you ask. And I think that can trip us up.

Irvine: Absolutely. So, as we begin then, let’s begin to look at that. Where did this come from? Why did we feel the need, originally, to make a distinction between a manager and a leader?

Bridgette: Well, this is a, really, fascinating little piece of history, because it turns out that a Harvard professor back in 1977, this is a guy who taught at Harvard for four decades, right? And back in 1977, he wrote an article, his name is Abraham Zaleznik. I don’t know if I’m pronouncing that correctly. But he wrote an article in which he argued that in the literature there was an excessive focus or too much focus on, sort of, what he saw as the bringing order to chaos function; stability, consistency, processes, and not enough focus on the other important side of inspiration; vision and passion.

And he said, bringing order to chaos and stability are the concerns of managers and, sort of, baked into their DNA, they focus on that because it’s almost in their psyche. And then, there’s this other important element that at the time he didn’t feel was emphasized enough, which was, really, about being comfortable with chaos and a lack of structure and being creative. And he likened leaders more to artists and scientists, because he saw it as a creative endeavor, and so that’s, kind of, where it began.

Irvine: That is fascinating, it, really, is. And I love that distinction. And I think when I’ve heard it expressed as well, one of the, I think originally, or one of the things that, really, resonated with me was this image that Stephen Covey, who, of course, wrote ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.’ This was the seminal work that a lot of leaders were reading back in the seventies and eighties. An image that he uses, which it, kind of, embodies this, is that he creates this image that where a company is going through this heavy jungle.

And at the frontline you have the producers, who with their machetes are cutting down all this heavy jungle trying to make progress. And they’re the producers, they’re the problem solvers. And then just behind them, they have the managers. And the managers, they’re sharpening the machetes, they’re writing policies and procedures, they’re having muscle development classes to help the producers remain on target. And then, behind them, way up in one of the trees is the leader, who’s looking out over the whole project and at times has to say, Hold up. We’re, actually, in the wrong part of the jungle, we may need to move.

And, of course, it was trying to get at sometimes the frustration that this leader has this bigger vision than compared to say, the manager and the producer. And, at times, the manager can get so caught up in the weeds, and then the leader, as well, is above that and, perhaps, this chaos as well. So these distinctions have, really, become part and parcel of how we think about our roles within organizations. Are you a manager or are you a leader? And depending on how you answer that will depend on exactly what you feel you’re called to do. So, maybe, we should spend a little more time on; Bridgette, maybe talking out what are some of these traditional distinctions that we have made between leadership and management in organizations?

Bridgette: Yeah. Oh, boy, do I remember that Covey metaphor really, really well.

Irvine: Yeah.

Bridgette: And it was very vivid. And it’s stuck around; I still hear people refer to that, right?

Irvine: Sure. Yeah.

Bridgette: So, yeah, I think coming out of that original article, and then Stephen Covey and other thought leaders, right? We have now, sort of, these set of distinctions between leaders and managers. And so, I’m going to share three, and just to our listeners, as you consider these, maybe think about which side of the equation feels more natural to you, if in fact it does, do you even see these distinctions? But here they are. So, these are the ones I thought of first. So, leaders set the vision, managers follow it.

So, kind of, that metaphor that you just spoke about, we have leaders thinking big picture, and they are called to set the vision and the direction; managers are called to make sure everybody aligns around it. Because the truth of the matter is, managers are closer to the processes and the people, right? So, they often have insight into, well, if that’s where you want to go, here’s how you’re going to get people to go with you, right? Here’s how you’re going to get them aligned around it. And then, leaders think ideas, managers think execution. That’s interesting, right?

So, a leader is in this distinction, kind of, charged with coming up with new ideas that will challenge the status quo. That’s, really, where their focus goes. And managers in this way of looking at it, are much more focused on the execution of those ideas, kind of, going back to that original article, right? It’s about systems; it’s the processes, responsibilities, stability, and so forth. And then leaders inspire people, and managers drive their success. So, leaders are that cheerleader, right? That larger-than-life persona that, really, breathes new life into companies and teams and situations. And the managers are the boots on the ground that are guiding people and mentoring and giving them feedback and stepping in to course correct when things are off track.

Irvine: Yeah.

Bridgette: So, those are some of the common distinctions that I thought of. And, again, I’m wondering as people listen to that, do they go, Oh, yeah, that’s me, but that’s not me. Or both of those are me, or, you know?

Irvine: Yeah. Yeah.

Bridgette: What do you think, are there some other distinctions that come to mind?

Irvine: I think I could just, maybe, add two others that I could’ve heard around as well. Not sure I agree with them, but this one is, leaders look to the future and managers are very much in the present. And I think what they’re trying to entail is a little bit of that flavor we’ve been talking about, where the important goal of managers is to achieve organizational goals. So, they’re talking about processes, they’re talking about budgeting, they’re talking about organizational structures and staffing and all of those things, and those are pretty much the present. Whereas, I think the distinction that’s been trying to be made is that a leader is always thinking ahead, always trying to capitalize on what do we not know? What’s in the future? What do we need to think about?

And I think what we’ve talked about before is alignment with purpose and this alignment with values, we’ve talked about that in a whole hour episode. And so, therefore, the leadership is always aligning to these values, which are very much inspirational from what you’ve said, but also future oriented. This is what we could be, and this is what we’re called to be, and we’re always working toward this goal of who we are. And then the last one is just about culture; I’ve heard a distinction around leaders are the ones who shape culture and managers are endorsing it.

And so, I think the distinction here that’s being tried to be made is that the leader, the duty, really, is to, kind of, call people to the vision of the company and what are the beliefs about the company, and, therefore, instill that in their communication and it’s aspirational, this is what we’re living up into. Whereas managers are very much endorsing that and trying to, well, do the processes align. It’s, really, interesting, I’m having a conversation at the moment with an organization, who are restating their company values. And it’s, really, interesting how that’s seeping through the organization because very much this very high level retreat, and once again, they realigned, these, really, are the values we want to live into.

And now, the next discussion is, well then, how does this seep into how we hire and the processes and et cetera, and you can almost see that in action, where now we’re calling in people who would be considered more managers and how that’s still within the whole organization.

Bridgette: Yeah. That last distinction about the culture, leaders lead the culture. I’ve often heard a lot of folks in the field of leadership development make the point that the CEO is the keeper of the culture, right? Because he or she, really, has the authority to shape and define and redefine culture, so I’ve heard that distinction for sure.

Irvine: Yeah. It’s interesting, so these are, kind of, the distinctions that are commonly made. However, in reality, there also are so many similarities between both leadership and management, they’re not, totally, distinct. Bridgette, do you agree with that?

Bridgette: Oh, for sure. I think like anything, we like to pull things apart to examine and study them. And in doing so, sometimes we draw a sharper line than, really, exists.

Irvine: Yeah.

Bridgette: So, there’s, definitely, overlap; I’m thinking about the last two and a half years with COVID, what did everybody have to do, whether you considered yourself a leader or a manager, you had to manage people through a crisis?

Irvine: Yeah.

Bridgette: You had to lead people through change. Maybe leaders come at that a little bit differently from a broader perspective, but nevertheless, managers and leaders both have to do that. And they both have to solve problems and make decisions.

Irvine: Yeah. Yeah.

Bridgette: Again, maybe leaders are making company-wide decisions and managers are focusing on the problems and decisions that face their team, but both of those are skills. And both of those skills must be strengthened and must be developed, whether you call yourself a manager or a leader, right?

Irvine: Yeah. Absolutely.

Bridgette: Yeah. So, I don’t know, what about you? Do you see some other areas of overlap?

Irvine: Yeah, yeah. I would, kind of, add to that as well and topics that we’ve talked about before, but both are absolutely, fundamentally have a foundation on self-awareness, and then also on the importance of trust. So, I think no matter what role you have, to the extent that you are aware of what’s happening internally within you; it impacts how you show up, it impacts how you’re triggered, it impacts how you react to the different situations around you. So, no matter if you call yourself a leader or a manager, to the extent that you have greater self-awareness, I think you’re going to show up in a better functioning way.

And then the other thing is trust the importance of trust, that no matter what you feel your tasks are, both managers and leaders need trust among others. If there’s a foundation of trust, then we’re going to be able to perform the tasks in a better and a faster way. So, I think that’s one thing. And then the second thing would be just an openness, as well, to gaining insight from others. I think the world of work is changing and we used to have the command and obey me, and this is what I say was the old model and no longer.

Bridgette: Right.

Irvine: And I think we’re learning just from different movements the importance of whose voice is at the table. Are we listening to everyone’s voice? Are we creating cultures where we encourage those, perhaps, who feel they don’t have a voice? And are we listening? And to the extent to which managers or leaders, however you see yourself, are able to listen to all voices, we know that creates conditions for better decisions. And for greater inclusion, and for a more inclusive culture, which are essential.

Bridgette: Yeah. So, the closer we, kind of, look at this, the more similar they become, actually, right? These core skills apply to both, and so it’s, perhaps, a little bit of an artificial distinction that we drew, as we said, in the beginning to make sure that we were looking at this more holistically, right?

Irvine: Yeah.

Bridgette: So, I think you agree, right? That it’s a little bit of a flying distinction here.

Irvine: I do. I, kind of, think, to me, it always, I have this idea of highly bureaucratic organizations that, and I’m sure there are still some of them there that are very much the structure is important and where you are in that structure. But I think organizations now that have learned anything are more agile, management levels tend to be more flat, and so those distinctions, I think, are blending. And I think, maybe, at the core of this is, really, a question about mindset. Kind of, what is our mindset as a leader or a manager?

And I’m wondering, maybe, at the core of this is leadership is asking more questions about who am I, who are we and how we show up and our presence, the quality of our presence, et cetera? And that gets to inspiration, influence, et cetera. And then, maybe, management is about how do we make use of the resources we have. And both of those questions are critical questions that everyone has to answer no matter where you’re at, and, maybe, how we approach them might be a little bit different, but at the core is very important.

And I think, I don’t know about you, but I always find there are people who see themselves as managers, sometimes, really, struggle with leadership and, kind of, well, I’m not, really, a leader, I’m just a manager. And I say, well, are you? And I think it’s important to, really, think about that. I’m thinking about a client, who, really, struggled with that question and, really, had trouble understanding themselves as a leader, and I think we had some, really, powerful conversations about influence. Because leadership, really, is about influence.

Bridgette: Yeah.

Irvine: And when you think about it, influence doesn’t come with a title. Influence, really, comes with how you show up, how present you are, and, as more we talked, she brought up this example of; she’s been in meetings where a person has the title leader. But, really, the person who was moving the strings in that meeting, the person, really, who had influence was someone who didn’t have the title, but they had the respect, they had the authenticity, and people, really, valued their input.

And I think this is, really, important as well, that those distinctions are blurring, and I think in the world of work today, people, really, appreciate authenticity; they appreciate sometimes someone being vulnerable, they appreciate someone who is able to show up in a way that is authentic and they are listened to and have impact and have influence. And I think that’s a better question, rather than are you a leader or not, is, really, asking what are the modes of influence you have? And are you, really, using the modes of influence you have?

Bridgette: Yeah. I love that. I love that question. Because at the end of the day, we all have to influence, right?

Irvine: Yeah. Yeah.

Bridgette: And so, it doesn’t, necessarily, I think what I’m hearing you say, Irvine, is it doesn’t always serve us well to put leadership in one bucket.

Irvine: Yes.

Bridgette: And management in another bucket, and the two shall never meet, or to narrowly define ourselves as one or the other.

Irvine: Yeah.

Bridgette: You know?

Irvine: Yeah. Yeah. Because we’re in a world now where there is no static definitions anymore. We struggle even to come up with a definition of what leadership is, and it’s, constantly, changing because the world of work is, constantly, changing, and what’s required of us, constantly, changes. So, really, to be much more fluid in our understanding, I think is, really, important. Now, one other thing just comes to mind, so we are on this podcast, Resilient Leadership, and we have talked about emotional systems and about managing emotional systems, and, of course, all of this was not around when these distinctions were being made. So, I’m curious, Bridgette, how do you see that fitting in, these roles, really, when it comes to dealing with resilience and dealing with managing emotional systems?

Bridgette: Well, it goes back to what you just said about influence. If we’re going to influence our organizations, our teams, we have to be good at influencing the relationship systems, right? We have to have an understanding of what it takes to not just move individuals, but to move the emotional dynamics in a family or a team. And, at the end of the day, it comes back to those three very basic building blocks we introduced in our first episode, right? The basic fundamental building blocks of being resilient, of being a resilient leader.

And they are, going to remind listeners because we haven’t mentioned them in a long time; self-awareness, self-management, and self-definition. Because if we are working on all three areas of those things, right? We are becoming what we refer to as a more self-differentiated leader. It means that we’re standing apart from the emotional pressures of the day, and people, really, see us as a leader, but we’re still staying very, powerfully, connected to others. So, each of those building blocks aids in our capacity to influence, right? You think about self-awareness, that’s, really, understanding how do others see me and what’s the impact I have on them?

And the self-regulation is all about managing your own anxieties, your own insecurities, your own emotions, your own reactivity, so that it doesn’t negatively infect others and spread. And self-definition is, who am I right? What do I care about? Where do I stand? What are my principles? When we pay attention to those three building blocks, it doesn’t matter whether we call ourselves a manager or a leader, we will be a powerful source of influence in our relationship systems.

Irvine: Yeah.

Bridgette: So, thanks for asking that question, because it, really, grounds us back in the basics of what we’re calling resilient leadership, right? Which is a systems approach to this, not an individual perspective, but a systems perspective.

Irvine: And I think that transcends, kind of, these arbitrary distinctions, at times, we make between leadership and management and this influence of a system is available to everyone no matter what your title is. And you can influence the system no matter where you are or no matter where you see yourself, or how you feel you fit into the system.

Bridgette: Yeah. Love it. All right. So, Irvine, we try to end every episode with a core practice. So, we’ve talked a lot about these distinctions, the overlap. Does it, really, matter? Is it, really, so? But at the end of the day, what could we put into practice?

Irvine: Yeah. Well, that’s a great question. I think what we’re, really, saying when we ask that question, are you a leader, a manager or both? We, really, are both. I think in the world of work now that these are artificial. And so, a little practice I have is just something, really, simple. And so often we can go into angst about what should I be doing? And part of that is, well, what should I do as a leader or a manager, et cetera, but, maybe, just to reduce it into something even simpler, which is what’s required now? When you’re facing something just give yourself a moment and say, what is required now?

And just a few steps for that. One is just to breathe. We’ve talked about pausing; so often we get ourselves into trouble when we become reactive and we know our reactive tendencies, and so part of that is just to give ourselves a pause before we feel we need to respond to anything. So, whatever practice that is, be it a breath, be it taking a chance to stretch or whatever, just a pause. And then, the second thing is to ask ourselves, what’s required now? What do I feel is required? And is it, really, just ask yourselves what do I feel is required? And just take a little time with that. And then, the third step from is, what’s my responsibility? Is this my responsibility or not?

And then, maybe, a little final step to that would be, how can I influence the situation? Because sometimes it may be your responsibility and you feel that you can’t do something, but the question of influence, how can I influence this? And I think because influence is at the core of both managing and leading. So, pause, ask yourself what’s required now, then ask yourself, what’s my responsibility? And then, how can I influence this situation?

Bridgette: I love that. What it made me think of is one of the distinctions that we talked about that people often draw between leaders and managers, is that leaders are responsible for culture, right? But, really, everybody is.

Irvine: Yeah.

Bridgette: So, what if in this practice, let’s say you’re noticing, and let’s say you’re more of a manager, in terms of your title, but you’re noticing a decline in culture somehow, right? That some of the values that your organization holds near and dear are not being expressed as consistently. And so, using this practice, you take that pause, you take that breath, you check in and you say, what’s required now? And what am I responsible for? Right? I’m not responsible for the entire cultural climate, but what am I responsible for? And then, what might be a thoughtful way to influence this situation for the better? And surely there’s something there for us, right?

Irvine: Yeah. Yeah.

Bridgette: That’s a great practice, thank you for sharing that.

Irvine: Yeah.

Bridgette: Well, what an interesting conversation, Irvine, this notion of who are we? Are we managers? Are we leaders? Are we both? And at the end of the day, you know what? We are all called to do a bit of both of these, aren’t we?

Irvine: We are.

Bridgette: It doesn’t matter what we do for a living, we’re called to manage our families, we’re also called to lead them. We’re called to manage projects; we’re also called to lead them. What we, really, can focus on are those fundamental building blocks that, really, enable us to be more influential in our organization; self-Awareness, self-regulation, self-definition. Okay. So, let’s tee up next time, because whether you call yourself a manager or a leader, one thing we know you’re going to face and you, probably, already have, is resistance and sabotage. We’re going to talk about how to deal with that effectively and here’s a little bit of good news; that it’s often a sign you’re doing something right. So, that’s what’s on tap next time, Irvine.

Irvine: I love it. I can’t wait. I can’t wait. And remember, subscribe to our podcast; if you think others can benefit from listening to some of the topics, please feel free to share it. We’re getting some great feedback on people who are just watching or listening to, particular, episodes and say, Oh, that was, really, what I needed in the moment, so please feel free to share the episodes. Thank you so much, Bridgette. Always a delight to have a conversation with you, and I look forward to talking about a little bit of resistance and sabotage on the next episode.

Bridgette: Awesome. Thank you, folks. Take care.

Irvine: Take care now. Bye now.

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