I have been having a brief chat with someone about whether they should be hiring a leader
or manager and the discussion seemed worth sharing.

So, is a manager or a leader right for a role?

These two terms often get used interchangeably, or even by people who consider a leader to be less than a manager. After all, you progress form a Team Leader to a Manager, don’t you? But what is the difference, if there is one?

There are a plethora of sites and articles out there defining the difference between the two types of role, but in the end it doesn’t really matter what you are or have, as long as it is right for the position.

Manager
In very simple terms, because you will be able to find something on the internet that disagrees with me, a manager is one who ensures that things get done and focuses on tasks.  So if, for example, you have a position which needs to ensure that certain services or products are delivered in a set way by a set time, and the team just need to do that, you probably need a manager in that position.

Leader
Again, in simple terms, a leader understands and shares a vision and encourages or helps people to deliver it. Another example might be where a team needs to deliver certain services to a customer but it is not prescriptive in the way that the services is delivered, then a leader might be right in this situation. “We need to clean this house. Make sure that there are no dirty carpets, curtains, windows and the oven is clean”. The vision has been set, and all get on to deliver that service. The leader might help to move furniture and do some of the tasks, but doesn’t tell the team how to clean the carpets, unless they are struggling and need help.

Servant Leader
This is a relatively new term to many people. Within agile teams. Servant Leaders, such as Scrum Masters or Agile Service Managers, in that environment will lead the teams to become self-organising and remove any impediments that might slow down or stop delivery.  They are part of the team and not separate. As Robert K Greenleaf puts it

“The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

So should you have, or be, a manager or a leader? Well, I am a consultant, so my response would have to be; it depends.

Managers will probably be more focussed on getting tasks delivered in an agreed way. e.g. Finance Manager or HR Manager.

Leaders will be focussed on helping a team to deliver against a vision. I believe that IT Operations Managers or Development Managers should be leaders more than managers.

Servant leaders will be focussed on helping the team become self-organising and enabling them to deliver with minimal hurdles. Think Scrum Master or even Service Desk Team Leaders.

There is no right or wrong role. It really needs to fit the position. A leader won’t always fit in a management role, and a manager won’t always fit in a leader role.  Work out what you need, and then find the right type of person to fit that need. And if you are a natural leader, understand that if you move into a management position, it just may not suit you and you might become frustrated.