No, You’re Not a Leader

Leader - a - ManagerSitting in a chair does not make you a leader.

(Not even if it is a really nice chair).

I struggled for a long time over the difference between being a leader and being a manager.  I knew there was an important way to parse the two, but it took me a while to figure it out.

It is a fundamental discussion point for everyone to realize because it is the first step in leadership development.  It is the demarcation point when you invest in your future leaders and potential succession pool.

The nuance leads to planning for responsibilities and expectations.  Some people believe that a place and position is enough and leadership is automatic.  Many people would equate the occupancy of a supervisory position as being a leader.  Leadership is not automatic, but a mindful application of communications, developing relationship, and influence.

The two words are often used as synonyms, but in my mind they are not the same concept.  I’ve always felt that management referred to resources and leadership implied a component of motivation.

If you have a job and you manage time, money, materials, or personnel, you are not a leader.  You are a manager.

The terms I find the most useful are transactional and transformational leadership.[1]


I deem a “transactional leader” as a manager.  Transactional leadership is a basic economic relationship: I give you a task, I provide the means and the resources, you perform the task, and I pay you for the task.

The appropriate conditions for the effective use of transactional leadership and when the tasks are highly repetitive and the need for personal subordinate interactions are low.

I have heard the comment “I pay them a fair wage, they should just shut up and do their jobs.”  At some level, this is a fair and appropriated comment, but if it forms the basis of your leadership style, I predict a leadership fail.

Why should you or I care?

There may be positions in a company that require only transactional relationships.  By identifying transactional positions and relationships, you can begin to delineate the amount of leadership training you might begin to invest in the managers or supervisors.  Too much “leadership” from well-meaning supervisors could affect the transactional process and interfere with work efficiency.

Transformational leaders

Transformational leadership focuses on the soft skill of human relationships and communications instead of the transactions.

According to James MacGregor Burns (1978), transforming leadership is a process in which “leaders and followers help each other to advance to a higher level of morale and motivation”.[2]

Bass and Riggio evidenced in their 2006 book that transformational leaders have more satisfied subordinates than non-transformational leaders.[3]


Management is an activity.  Not to belittle the function, it requires skill and expertise and it is essential to any organization.  But, don’t confuse it with leadership.  A management on-the-job training (OJT) program is not sufficient to prepare new managers for leadership challenges.

Leadership training must be a separate, parallel program that addresses the leadership challenges and skill commensurate with each higher level of responsibility.  Leadership has its own skills and requires training.  It is unfair to everyone to expect leadership from people who have never had that leadership experience or training.  The company may pay in the long run with disgruntled employees of high employee turnover.

Managers will make the schedules, maintain the budgets, and keep the organization organized.

Leadership will motivate the employees, establish the organizational culture, drive critical decisions, and stabilize the organization in volatile times.

Understand that there is a difference between management and leadership and plan accordingly.  They are both necessary and should be addressed with training and role development.


Kenneth Wrede

Transformational leadership is defined as a leadership approach that causes change in individuals and social systems. In its ideal form, it creates valuable and positive change in the followers with the end goal of developing followers into leaders. Enacted in its authentic form, transformational leadership enhances the motivation, morale and performance of followers through a variety of mechanisms. These include connecting the follower’s sense of identity and self to the mission and the collective identity of the organization; being a role model for followers that inspires them; challenging followers to take greater ownership for their work, and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of followers, so the leader can align followers with tasks that optimize their performance…[4]


[1] Bass, B. M., Avolio, B. J., & Atwater, L. E. (1996). “The transformational and transactional leadership of men and women”. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 45, 5–34.

[2] Burns, J.M, (1978), Leadership, N.Y, Harper and Row.

[3] “Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational leadership (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers; US.

[4], Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, //












About Ken Wrede
Kenneth Wrede

2 thoughts on “No, You’re Not a Leader

  1. […] K. W. Wrede makes a cogent and clear case of the need for management and leadership. As many of us know, these are two different skills. But Ken goes beyond this initial point to show us why these differences matter and more importantly, where the key conflux of leadership and management resides. Ken is a must read […]

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