Should I Manage or Should I Lead?


That is the question.

Many ‘managers’ have wondered if there is a real difference between the two, that is, aren’t the terms synonymous these days, and isn’t it just a case of semantics?

Well, let’s take a look back and identify where the words actually came from…

The word ‘Manage’ is derived from an old French/Saxon verb ‘Man’ij’, which meant the senior person whose job it was to control or train horses, but this job would also have included the supervision and training of more junior people who helped the Man’ij to undertake their duties.

At some early point during the Industrial Revolution the plural ‘Man’ijur’ became a popular phrase within an Industrial context, which is not surprising given that it would have been a word that lots of people from the Agrarian economy would have known. However, the emphasis of its meaning had slightly changed in order to describe someone who was responsible for ‘controlling people, processes and paper’ (or any combination of the three) in a transactional sense, as opposed to controlling horses. 200 years on, and within a contemporary context, the word ‘Manager’ still retains its original connection to  ‘Control’ (of people, processes and paper).

The word ‘Leader’ comes from a word that meant ‘to show the way by going first’, or ‘to act as a guide’. It was adopted by sailors in antiquity to describe the boat that had the most experienced navigator on board, someone familiar with local currents, and where other ships could follow the ‘Leader-ship’, although they

in turn had adopted the word from land based ‘guides’ (leaders) who showed people the ancient routes and trails in order to conduct trade. During the 18th and 19th centuries, land-based armies adopted the word to indicate how people were expected to behave (e.g. lead from the front). Given the several hundreds of years that have passed since it was first used, ‘Leadership’ still means ‘showing the way through personal example’.

Managers therefore undertake a series of Transactional activities ensuring people, process and paper are all controlled within a set of clearly defined rules to achieve an organisational goal. Whereas Leaders undertake a series of Transformational activities, more connected with inspiring people to achieve their own (or more usually the leader’s) vision or goal, but relying upon their own charisma to galvanise people into achieving the goal.

There. That’s all cleared up then!

Many thanks

Mark Williams

Head of Training

MTD Training | Management Blog | Image courtesy by J S Creationzs of FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

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