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English words, like one’s appearances, can be deceptively confusing.  You will come across several words that sound similar but are the other way around in terms of meaning. 

Take for the instance the most commonly mistaken words in today’s ruthlessly competitive age - management and leadership. 

Industry captains across the world are looking for people with ‘leadership capabilities’ rather than those possessing ‘consummate management’ skills. The reason for this paradigm shift is quite simple. 

At a time when the life-span of products, services and ideas are short-lived, ‘innovate or perish’ has replaced ‘perform or perish’ as managerial buzzwords. 

To demystify the difference between manager and leader, we should read American author Warren Bennis’ “On Becoming a Leader.” The man credited with being the pioneer of leadership studies enlists the differences in his subtle manner:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates. 
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
Status quo that comes with the word impossible; is scary because it inhibits you and makes you an escapist. But, believe me! Impossible is in the dictionary of the foolish, timid and weak. Human beings have innate potential to make impossible things possible. 

Fighting pancreatic cancer and unprecedented reverses in business, Steve Jobs could become the innovator of the wonderful. 

The Moon mission or Mars mission were considered humanly impossible till that got translated into reality because of individuals who demonstrated indefatigable human endeavour and unparalleled commitment. What seems to be impossible would sooner or later turn out to be possible. 

Let me now turn to few anecdotal experiences in my personal life, however, modest they may be to tell story interestingly to my readers. 

I studied in Telugu medium till seventh standard.  Suddenly, I was admitted to an English medium school run by missionaries. The experience of the first day was so nightmarish that even today when I think of it, I get wild dreams.

The moment I entered the classroom, all scared and utterly confused, a fellow-student rushed towards me and introduced himself as Pawan, who was surrounded by the classmates. 

I was asked to read a lesson from the English text-book. I started reading the first line in the first lesson: ‘Sancho Panza was a squire to Don Quixote’ (from the Spanish author Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s 1605 classic). 

My pronunciation was horribly ‘Tenglish’ (if I can describe it so). Everyone in the class, including girls, burst out laughing. 

Pawan called a third standard student and asked him to read the same text. It was much better. I was put to shame. Pawan shouted, ‘you will never pass seventh standard’.  

I was drawn between two contrasting choices - give up my life after such a humiliation or take up the challenge and prove to be invincible. Thankfully, I chose the second.  

After three decades I unexpectedly met Pawan. He was shocked to know about what I had achieved on the professional front. Surprisingly, Pawan never passed seventh standard and settled in the family business in my town. 

You will be a leader only when you challenge the status quo. Gain the pleasure in doing so. You will discover the unbelievable potential in you. Perhaps we all human beings use a fraction of our potential due to a multitude of reasons, most of which are out of the blue. 

Coming back to our earlier discussion on management and leadership, these words may not be similar but complementary. 

The Wall Street Journal Guide to Management says, ‘Leadership and management must go hand in hand. They are not the same thing. But they are necessarily linked, and complementary. 

Any effort to separate the two is likely to cause more problems than it solves.’ (guides.wsj.com).

This difference between management and leadership has become explicit due to the transition into the new economy. 

In this knowledge economy, value comes increasingly from the knowledge of people rather than efficient management of resources. Therefore, focus on human resource skills than on functional skills alone to decide on one’s employability.

 Peter Drucker, often described to be the founder of modern management, observed that the task is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual.

Everything in nature has a specific duty to perform. The Bhagavad Purana states that material worlds are a combination of sat or effect and asat or cause. The leader is one who understands this dialectical relationship to conquer the material world. 

Liz Ryan in Management Vs Leadership: Five Ways They Are Different (www. forbes.com) beautifully summarises the fine differences between managers and leaders. Believe me. I began to learn and practice some of them to succeed in my profession. 

Managers think on how to assign work to subordinates, how to evaluate their productivity levels, how to counsel people on performance-related problems and how to hire and fire staff members. The manager’s job is to keep the machine running smoothly.

Leadership has very little to do with controlling, budgeting and so on. It has little overlap with assigning work and evaluating it. Leaders allow people to design their own jobs to the maximum possible extent as a measure of putting their stamp of authority. The energy of the team powers everything a leader will accomplish.

Shun the old-fashioned management approach to your life. Let the vision of modern leadership guide your destiny. Take the call, right away.