I’m a good manager, but my board wants a leader. Help!

May 28, 2015

Dear Rich,

I’ve always thought I did a pretty good job as executive director managing our small organization. We’re in the black and our programs are respected, but the other day I overheard a couple of board members complaining that I’m “a manager, not a leader.” Is there really a difference between management and leadership? Help!

Dear Friends,

Every successful organization or business needs both leaders and managers. If you are only soaring with the eagles and not mucking around with the pigeons you will lose credibility because you won’t be able to execute your programs and activities. Both of these talents and skills are required and necessary for an effective nonprofit organization.

A lot of organizations that reach a mature stage of their life cycle have executive directors that are more focused on management than leadership. They spend the majority of their time internally and have board members and a development director who are good at working the community. A management-oriented executive director is entirely okay as long as there are board members and senior staff to provide leadership.

  • Leadership generally looks at what can be. Leadership looks into the future, brings new people to the table and creates new directions. Good leaders create a unified vision to inspire those around them and motivate people to achieve the organization’s vision.
  • Management looks at what is and how current programs can be executed more effectively. Good managers set up a strong infrastructure and build effective systems to carry out the organization’s mission. Strong managers have a real value for process and are effective with program and organizational execution.

You have to have both leaders and managers! Being a good manager is nothing to be ashamed of – it’s a challenging job. A good manager will sometimes have to push back when a visionary leader is in danger of getting the organization too far out ahead of what is possible. A good leader will respect the folks who are doing the hard day-to-day work and partner with them.

Leadership and management are two sides of the same coin of success. So let’s hear it for both the eagles and the pigeons!

Good luck!


P.S. There are many different types of leaders – and sometimes they’re the people you’d least expect. Check out this Rich Tips column from May 2013. http://richardmale.com/why-introverts-make-great-leaders

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