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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Leaders, managers and shades of blue, February 24, 2006, 2D.

Royal blue and navy blue…can you see them in your mind?  When only one of these colors is present by itself, one might refer to the color simply as “blue.”  However, when the two shades are presented together, a different language is needed to capture the differences between the two.  They are both blue, yet they are different shades of blue.  If we use only the word “blue” to describe both shades, we lose out on the ability to describe the concepts most fully and accurately.  

Likewise, the terms manager and leader have similar, yet different meanings.  As an example, think about a “manager” of a city league softball team.  The manager is one who recruits players, attends managers meetings, submits rosters, calls and organizes practices, develops and completes team line-ups before each game, assigns players to positions and batting order, meets with the umpires, and provides required equipment and paperwork for play.  Managers are planners and organizers, they foresee difficulties and exceptions that might hinder the group from accomplishing its goals and develop contingency plans to head off potential problems, and they keep the team on track 

The team leader does different things from the team manager.  The team leader may not be the same person as the team manager.  The team leader is one who provides a personal example of excellence and teamwork to teammates.  Team leaders provide vision and inspiration to the team, they hustle hard and they encourage and motivate teammates to perform to the best of their abilities and to work for the good of the team.  They are confident in their vision for the team and they exude this confidence into their teammates.  Leaders communicate well with their colleagues, they lift up and support teammates, they are humble, and they inspire others to reach for something bigger and better.

In today’s culture, we many times use the terms manager and leader synonymously.  However, as with color, true analysis of the concepts can only happen when we have words to describe the different shades.  In formal organizations, managers typically have formal authority—powers that reside in the position that they occupy within an organization.  Leadership does not come from a position in an organization; rather, it is earned and given to someone by other organizational members.  It is possible to be a good manager and not a good leader, a poor manager and a good leader, or both (or neither).  Effective organizations require effective management and leadership.

In many cases, the individuals who advance through organizations do so because they are good managers and leaders.  They have the abilities to plan and organize and the abilities to work with others, to inspire, motivate, encourage, and communicate.  The challenge for us all is to identify and develop our strengths and weaknesses as managers AND leaders.  For organizations, the challenge is to identify and train current and future organizational members with the skills and abilities required of effective management and leadership.

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© 2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved