The Difference Between Managers and Leaders

armysoldierMy own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.
— General Montgomery

Contrary to the economic view of the purely self-interested individual, human-beings operate on two distinct levels: an individual orientation, and a group orientation. Individually oriented actions are instrumental and centered on getting what you need or want, whereas group oriented actions are centered on service to a group or cause outside one’s self. According to this view, evolution has not turned us into ‘homo-economicus’ (economic man), rather, we are by nature ‘homo-duplex’ – concerned with both the individual and the social realm.

This dual conception of man was discussed by Sociologist Émile Durkheim who argued that all collective activity, from modern occupations to the most elementary forms of religious ritual, can be rooted in the human need for a collective-life that inspires individuals to transcend their everyday experience of instrumental activity. This idea that humans require social commitments to fulfill the need of self-transcendence has been recently validated by empirical research in moral psychology; Jonathan Haidt states, “Great leaders understand Durkheim, even if they’ve never read his work.”

So what is the fundamental difference between leadership and management? The answer lies in our need for self-transcendence. Leaders inspire groups of individuals, rallying them toward a common cause, whereas managers instrumentally ensure the proper functioning of the group. Leaders are passionate, committed, and display care for the group, whereas managers are detached, calculative, and focused on procedure.

Although leaders have many characteristics mere managers lack, this does not mean leaders can’t also have great management abilities. As stated by Jonathan Haidt, great leaders understand Durkheim’s concept of man as homo-duplex, even if they have not read his work. They understand that our lower everyday instrumental selves need to be accounted for, but also understand our desire to achieve our higher social selves through passionate commitment to a collective cause.

Soldiers in combat don’t take bullets for one another because they were instructed to do so by senior management; they do it because of their passionate commitment to their unit, united by the bonds of love and brotherhood. The ideal leader is one who is able to facilitate altruistic group integration by demonstrating passionate commitment, care, and service by example.

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