Any time you put an Army veteran and a Marine Corps veteran at a table together in a social setting you will get the inevitable “insults.” They aren’t serious. Every veteran knows the mutual respect that flows and we have a lot of fun with it by picking on each other. For all that, one of the things we know equally well is the value of a true leader. Legendary names get thrown out and discussed. Eventually someone will comment that those people being named had proven themselves as leaders… and that is vastly different from being a manager. What are some of those differences?

Leadership doesn’t require a rank or a title. Leadership is something some people grow into and carry the mantle of, and they do it without ego or arrogance although their confidence would rarely be questioned. Leaders find a way, or create a way, to motivate those they are responsible for to do what needs to be done. They work side by side, hand in hand, right there in the muck and yuck to accomplish the mission at hand. They critique in private, praise in public and give recognition to those who perform above and beyond. Leaders develop those they lead into better people; more skilled people; more valuable people.

Managers… managerial accountants to be more precise… depend fully on their rank or title as the source of their “power.” A management position is something they strive to attain and they usually make no secret of their aspirations. Managers usually aren’t problem solvers, but look to others to fix any challenges or issues encountered in the process of accomplishing an assigned task. Managers like to sit behind a desk and tell others what to do, considering themselves above “the dirty work,” and not responsible for anyone but themselves. They are typically quick to blame or be critical of someone without any consideration for who’s around and when something goes right they are quick to take credit… whether it’s theirs to have or not. Managers are often afraid of those who excel as a threat to their position.

In just reading those two simple paragraphs, almost everyone I know would prefer to work with a leader than work for a manager; and there is a huge difference between working with or working for. Every member of the military, or veteran thereof, can name someone that is/was in their chain of command who was a leader. They can also name a few people who were managers. They aren’t shy about telling you they’d go to hell and back with the leader but didn’t even want to go to lunch with the manager. When asked why… eventually… it’ll come down to the fact that the leader is the embodiment of self-confidence without being self-centered. The manager? Self-centered and usually not as self-confident… or as competent.

Another thing that makes leaders stand out above and beyond managers is the type of employees or “followers” they prefer. Leaders like people who take initiative; who have some sense of independence; and, often, have a bit of a rebellious streak. Famous Marine Chesty Puller is credited with saying, “You aren’t a true Marine until you’ve been NJPd at least twice.” (NJP is non-judicial punishment. It means you did something you shouldn’t have but it’s not super serious so it’s handled “in house.”) Chief of Police Jeff Chudwin, a legend in his own right, once said that law enforcement is hiring the wrong people because we seek those who have never bucked the system; never been in trouble; never fought or shown that rebellious “bad boy” streak. Both men, recognized GREAT leaders, saw and believed in the value of those who weren’t perfect angels. They recognized that the strength of that rebellious streak – that independence and initiative – could be disciplined but not created.

Managers, on the other hand, like employees who do what they’re told; who don’t show much initiative – maybe just enough to make the manager look good but surely not enough to look better than the manager at doing a given job. They like people who don’t buck the system and never break the rules… unless somehow doing so makes the manager look good. Interestingly, it’s near impossible to find any appreciated quote from a famous manager. There aren’t any.

As we all move through life, we should be striving to continue to grow and learn. Leaders empower that; encourage that; support that. Managers not so much. Managers don’t like things that change. It means THEY have to grow and learn and managers are all about the status quo. Recognizing that, if you work for a manager, your goal should be to recognize the limits you’re working under and strive to grow to overcome them. Will you be a threat to the manager’s job security? Probably. Should it matter to you? Not in the least. Yes, sometimes it’s a balancing act but YOU have to strive to be a better YOU and NOT limited by someone else’s fears, self-perception or self-limits.

Finally, if you are trying to figure out if you’re a leader or a manager, it’s a brutally honest self-critique but it helps to recognize that if you are a manager, you don’t have to remain so. You CAN learn to be a leader but it takes effort and change in how you perceive a lot of what’s around you. It’s well worth it though. Being a leader is better in the professional environment, no matter what the profession is, and in almost every aspect of your personal life as well. Leaders are better parents, better coaches, better mentors, better clergy… better everything. So which are you?


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