Do CEO’s Make Bad Managers?

Manager_LeaderThere was a Forbes article that I read online recently stating that CEO’s tend to make really bad managers.  It is not at all unusual for great Leaders to make bad managers.  After all, leadership and management are two very different skills.  Think of all the instances where an innovative leader creates a fantastic business but lacks the skills to manage it on a day-to-day basis. Having a great business idea is wonderful but having the ability to manage the growth phase(s) of your enterprise calls for a completely different skill set.

Can a great leader also be a good manager?  Of course it’s possible but highly unlikely. A good manager helps their business (or department) navigate today’s challenges while good leaders prepare their organizations to take advantage of tomorrow’s opportunities. Corporate America has a habit of taking a performer with strong technical skills and promoting that person into a management role.  Furthermore, that same worker could conceivably be promoted even further into a leadership role.

It might be a wiser option to determine if a strong performer has the traits of a leader or a manager before deciding which path to promote them on. You know the old saying about being promoted to your own level of incompetence. Leaders can exist at any level within an organization.  On the other hand, just because someone is working at a senior level, that does not necessarily mean they are leaders.  Management is more about overseeing well-established processes.  Leadership is about vision and looking towards the future. 

Annmarie Neal is the author of Leading from the Edge (ASTD Press, 2013) and she states, “A leader is somebody who sees opportunity and puts change in motion. A manager is somebody who follows that leader and sees how to structure things to create value for the company,” she says. “I’ve found that the best leaders weren’t really good managers. Yes, they understood the discipline, but they weren’t the best accountant, or the best technical person, or the best brand manager. They can do it, but they have a way of [thinking about the issues] at another level.”

Differences between managers and leaders

Managers administer; Leaders innovate

Managers focus on systems; Leaders focus on people

Managers maintain; Leaders develop

Managers rely on control; Leaders inspire trust.

Managers have an eye on the bottom line; Leaders have an eye on the horizon.

Managers imitate; Leaders originate.

Managers are “steady as she goes”; Leaders want to head in another direction.

Managers inspire confidence; Leaders make you believe you can do the impossible.

Managers determine how to walk the path, step by step; Leaders visualize the path to follow.

The best managers tend to thrive on being detail-oriented whereas leaders tend to thrive as big picture thinkers. The very things that allow one to excel at one discipline tend to hamper the ability to excel at the other.  Another factor to consider is that leaders and managers must be graded using different paradigms.  Grading a manager is easier, in my opinion, because much of what a leader does concerns pursuing uncharted territory.  How can you grade someone who is doing something on one else has every attempted?

It seems to me that the most important thing for an organization is to have both great managers AND great leaders within. It is not necessary that both traits reside in the same individual, just that both traits reside within the same organization.  I read a quote from Dr. John P. Kotter stating, “At a certain point, we end up with over-managed and under-led organizations, which are increasingly vulnerable in a fast-moving world.”  I agree with his position. What do you think?

Do you believe managers must also be great leaders? Does it matter?

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