Are You a Manager, a Leader, or Both?

The Poynter Institute offers programs under the heading of "Leadership and Management." Why not just leadership, or just management? What's the difference between the two? Is one more important than the other?

My view is that there is clearly a difference between the two. Not every manager is a leader. Not every leader is a manager. You can be both, if you choose to.

Social scientists have devoted large chunks of their brainpower to defining and differentiating the concepts of leadership and management. Here's a quick tour of some of their thinking, starting with observations from leadership scholars John Kotter and Warren Bennis:

After reading those lists, it is tempting to see managers as lesser beings than leaders, drudges who feed the machine while leaders create visions of a better world. But consider how difficult life is when our managers don't deliver for us. Managers oversee, among other things:

  • work schedules

  • internal/external communication

  • procuring and protecting our tools and technology

  • hiring

  • training

  • evaluating

  • holding people accountable

  • developing systems

  • collaboration across groups

That small sample demonstrates the importance of managers to organizations. It is why another leadership thinker, Joseph C. Rost, criticizes those who "denigrate management to ennoble leadership." He praises managers for bringing order, stability, and predictability to the workplace. Journalists who have worked in newsrooms without those characteristics can offer a hearty "amen" (which explains why Poynter teaches leadership and management).

But Rost opens an important door, too. He argues that management is about authority, and leadership is about influence.

That, I believe, is a clear and critical distinction. Managers have the authority to make things happen. They can do it by force (reward and punishment), by simply "pulling rank." That’s authority. But managers who lead, and leaders who aren't managers, reach goals through influence.

Influence comes from trust -- from a person's expertise, integrity, and empathy as perceived by others. Maximum influence accrues to those who are strong in all three areas.

As I see it, people are required to follow managers. They choose to follow leaders.

Now, want to take things a step farther? Then consider that there are different levels of leadership. Back in 1978, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and leadership scholar James MacGregor Burns advanced his theory about two types of leadership: transactional and transformational.

Transactional leadership is largely a good deal between individuals; the leader wants to achieve something and offers inducements to the follower. But transformational leaders achieve more. Burns believes they raise both the leader and the follower to higher levels of motivation and morality.

Does "transformational leadership" sound lofty and unattainable to you? Do you have to be heroic or charismatic to achieve it? Not at all. Each of us, managers and non-managers, has the ability to turn the routine transactions of our lives into something better. What it takes is dedication to the people, not just the product. If you want to lead at this level, consider these commitments, and whether they reflect your leadership philosophy:

  • The people I lead are more than a means to an end.

  • I help people achieve a genuine sense of purpose in our work; values matter.

  • I find opportunities for people to grow and their ideas to be heard.

  • I learn what motivates people, both intrinsically and extrinsically; I don't assume.

  • I value people as individuals, and give them individualized attention.

If you take a second look at those commitments, you'll note that they easily apply to a person with the title of manager, if that manager wants to be known as a high-level leader. But they can be embraced just as easily by a person with no title at all other than "colleague."

News organizations need good managers; they also need leaders at every level. Have you considered stepping up?


  • John P. Kotter, "What Leaders Really Do," Harvard Business Review (Cambridge, May-June, 1990)

  • Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith, Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader

  • Joseph C. Rost, Leadership for the Twentieth Century

  • James MacGregory Burns, Leadership
  • Profile picture for user jgeisler

    Jill Geisler

    Jill helps news managers learn how to lead her favorite people in the world - journalists. Good journalists, she points out, question authority and resist "spin." It takes exceptional leaders to build trust, along with the systems and culture that grow great journalism.


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