Leaders vis-a-vis Managers

Many theories float around as to what is the difference between Leaders vis-a-vis- Managers; I hope to show some more clarity on the matter by referring to my Hands, Heart, Head, Voice model of leadership.

To recap, the four main functions/ traits of a good leader are elaborated below:

  1. Hand / Executing themes/ Task focus
  2. Heart/ Relationship building themes/People focus
  3. Head/ Strategic thinking themes/ Strategic focus
  4. Voice/ Influencing themes/ Cultural focus

IMHO, the traditional way in which leaders and managers are defined, leaders are predominantly leaders, because of their ability to think strategically or to inspire positive cultural changes; while managers are managers, because of their ability to execute the given tasks and because they can develop individuals and get work done out of them.

Much has been written about the task vs people orientation of managers; similarly its important as leaders to be aware of the strategic vs cultural focus you bring to the table (i.e whether you believe culture eats strategy for breakfast, or the opposite). Each style has its unique advantages, but as you grow from a supervisor to a manager to an executive to a real leader you will probably progress form Hands to Heart to Head to Voice.

Now, lets look at some other dynamics between the Hands, Heart, Head and Voice.

Hand Vs Voice : Here task focus is pitted against a culture focus and the real deal is about having tangible vs intangible results.  Culture is notoriously hard to measure, but any changes are as noticeable and as effective as any bottom-line results.

Voice vs Heart: Here a focus on organizational culture is pitted against a focus on individuals that make the organization and their needs. Issues of alignment are top-of the mind in this dynamics. Another way to think about the dynamics is whether you work one-on-one with individuals to bring out their best; or whether you inspire and motivate and work with, and via, large collectives and groups.

Heart vs Head: Here a focus on people is pitted against a focus on strategy and another way to look at the same is whether as a leader one is human-centric or more business-oriented.

Head vs Hands: Here a focus on strategy/ thinking is pitted against a focus on tasks/ execution. Another way to conceptualize is to think in terms of whether you are making moves that are strategic in nature or that are tactical in nature. How much of your time is spent making strategic decisions and executing strategy vis-a-vis in tactical maneuvers of day to day operations.

Be warned, that as a leader, you need to use all of your Hands, Heart , Head and Voice and a good leader/ manager, though having a predominant style, is flexible enough to rise to the occasion and use other styles as and when the situation so demands.

Its fun to apply this to an org structure, say the C-suite of executives of a tech company: while Hands may be the COO, responsible for day to day operations;  Head will typically be the CTO/CSO, responsible for providing a competitive strategic advantage; Heart will be the CXO, the Chief Experience Officer providing the human-centrism;  while Voice may be the CEO/CIO responsible for culture/ innovation etc.

In a similar vein, when startups form, all these things need to come together: an inspiring idea (Voice/ culture/ innovation) having a viable business model (Hands/ execution), to be executed by a stellar team of like-minded people that has been put together ( Heart/  people) and which has a clear business plan ( Head/ strategy.

While the prevailing wisdom is that the ‘idea’ guy should not be the CEO (makes for a ‘weak CEO’) , I think if CEO is to be the leader that everyone is to look at, they should be the ones to influence and inspire the employees, and need to have good Voice abilities.  What do you think? Do let me know via comments!

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