A senior manager recently asked what the difference was between a manager and a leader. I told her:
"A manager is responsible for taking care of the here and now. A manager ensures the resources are used efficiently, and plans for maximum utilization of staff, equipment, materials, and capital. A manager knows how to multi-task and deal with ever-shifting priorities.
A leader focuses on "What's coming next and how to take advantage of it?"
Given that definition, she said, "I'm definitely not a leader. I don't have time to think about what's next. I'm overwhelmed trying to keep the here and now under control. How do I find the time to lead?"
For most people, you can't lead until you've taught others how to manage. Until you free up time and your mental capacity to focus on "What's next?" it's terribly difficult to become an effective leader. Many people try to do both and end up being stressed out managers with limited effectiveness planning for the future. They weaken themselves in both arenas.
So, how can this senior manager become a leader?
She needs to start holding her managers accountable to do the tough things good managers do: have necessary conversations with staff who are not performing well, deal with the unhappy customers to resolve company-created problems, make difficult and risky decisions concerning resources, and track their departmental goals with their staffs to ensure the entire organization continues to move towards its vision. Until her managers are held accountable to do their jobs and manage effectively, this senior manager won't be able to free herself up enough to lead effectively. Until she's ready to be a solid manager herself (and have those difficult conversations with her own staff), she won't be positioned to move to the next phase of professional growth and become a leader.
If you're faced with the same dilemma as this senior manager and don't have time to plan for the future, ask yourself, "What do I spend most of my time doing now?"
If you spend the bulk of your time doing the work your managers or supervisors should be doing, you may need to start holding yourself and others accountable.