Leader vs. Manager


Some thoughts I’ve had lately while preparing for my next round of talks focusing on leadership...

I hate being referred to as a manager, I prefer the term leader.  Too often in the workplace the term manager is associated with the person to whom you report. A leader, however, may have those same responsibilities but also focuses on guiding others from within the team. A strong leader makes it easier for others to follow his or her vision or goal. 

That said, management still has it’s place. Certainly, I have to manage my developers and give them direction and feedback for specific tasks.  Management is a sub-task of the leadership role.  However, as the leader becomes responsible for multiple teams, the management role increases. I will focus more on the leadership role and responsibilities in my talks, rather than the management aspect.

Having the title of a lead does not mean that others will naturally follow you.  In fact, it could be quite the opposite! Some developers might resent the fact that an individual has been promoted to a leadership role. Sometimes the promotion is just part of the natural progression of the company, and not directly tied to the promoted person’s career path or goals. This can be problematic if the developer just wants to be promoted for the pay raise and doesn’t  have strong leadership skills. He or she may end up frustrated and not perform well in the new position. 

This poses the question: Are leaders born or made?  I say both! While I was not a natural leader as a kid, as I got older and entered the workplace, my interpersonal and leadership skills developed. Over time, others saw potential in me.  I got promoted into management early in my career, and in hindsight, I don’t think I was quite ready yet.  I had a lot to learn about coaching other developers, especially those whose skills were more advanced than my own. Over time, I learned that a leader doesn’t necessarily have to be the best developer on the team. A good leader's breadth of knowledge and coaching expertise can not only help the team succeed, but also helps individuals progress in their career. 

Focus on being a good leader first... opportunities and developers will follow.