Beyond Bean Counting: Leader vs. Manager

Posted on February 3, 2017

This is the third installment of a four-part series on how local government finance officers can make a BIG impact when given a seat at the table! 

In two earlier posts, here and here, we looked at how and why financial professionals can become involved in more areas of local government to benefit themselves and their organizations. We talked about how traditional finance officers function as managers, and why it’s a good idea for them to take on leadership responsibilities. As a follow, we think it’s helpful to look more generally at what management is, what leadership is, and how they differ.

Most people who head an organization – whether it’s a department or an entire government – see themselves as either a natural leader or a born manager. Many finance professionals lean toward being strong managers. Managing and leading require different skill sets and mindsets, but the success of any organization depends on competence in both roles.

A leader is a big-picture person, the human side of a successful organization. He or she sets the tone, shapes the environment, establishes goals and motivates people. Leaders often can imagine an alternative future for their organization and work to make it a reality.

A manager makes sure the processes of the local government function well. He or she takes the tools at hand and uses them to accomplish results and enforce accountability for the team. Managers tend to like concrete goals, so they can check off accomplishments and measure their progress.

We’ve tended in recent years to emphasize the importance of leadership over management. We value those who can inspire others to achieve. Management, meanwhile, is seen as the often-tedious practice of making other people do something they may not want to do.

However, a detail-oriented manager who loves process and performance measures can still inspire others to dream big and accomplish much, while a leader who generates tons of exciting ideas won’t be very successful unless he or she can translate them into concrete action. This is why staffers in any department or agency will do best when they report to someone who excels at both leadership and management.

Knowing the difference and striving to improve in both roles will help your own personal performance and that of your organization. The best leader has well-developed management skills; the best manager has well-developed leadership skills. The secret to being more effective is to know your own tendencies and work harder on the things that don’t come naturally to you.

Books to check out:

Check back next week for the last installment of Beyond Bean Counting, where Management Partners interviews Mike Bailey, Finance Director in Redmond, WA!

Close window