Is a manager a leader?

Is a manager a leader? Some are and some unfortunately aren’t but they all should think of themselves as leading the people who work under them. Here some thoughts about leadership in business and everywhere else.

No form of social organization has ever existed without leaders. To have someone in charge is as natural as the birds and the bees, the former with their pecking orders, the latter with their queen. In human affairs even those who reject traditional leadership structures find a need for leaders themselves: anarchist parties dedicated to the destruction of the state regularly elect slates of officers. The Bolsheviks who strove for the dictatorship of the proletarint wound up with the pure and simple dictatorship of one man.

Like cream, it seems, leaders naturally rise to the surface. But unlike cream they are not necessarily the best part of the whole. The wizardry of popular leadership has been applied at least as much to evil as to good over the course of history. The example of Adolph Hitler springs to mind – a charismatic leader whose ability to muster a mass following for his twisted visions brought immense suffering to mankind.

There are those who would argue, however that dictators like Hitler and Stalin were not really leaders. They may once have led in a demagogic fashion, but they turned into tyrants when the absolute corruption of absolute power took hold. A leader and a tyrant are polar opposites wrote James Mac Gregor Burns, the award winning American political scientist. In his 1978 book Leadership, Burns drew a strict line between those who lead and those who wield blunt power.

This may seem like an overly idealistic view of the question, since so many so called leaders are demonstrably quick to force people to do their bidding. But it does fit in with the theory, if not always the practice of democratic rule. The democratic system tries to guard against excessive power and its attendant corruption. In the Watergate affect the world witnessed the system in action who less a personage than the president of the United States was driven from office for abusing his power.

One of the reasons for the restraints on power is to control ambition. The democratic system recognizes that ambition always has been and always will be a vital force in human affairs. It seeks to harness this force to the best interests of the people. Similarly, the private enterprises economy, with its rewards for performance and risk taking, pools the efforts generated by personal ambition into a general effort to produce an endowment in which everyone shares.

When viewed in the light of ambition, Burns’s distinction between tyrants and leaders stands out vividly. The tyrant’s ambition is for himself alone; he may use other people to gain it, but they are no more than his tools. In contrast, the leader is ambitious not only for himself but for a cause which he shares with his following. Rightly or wrongly, he believes that his followers will be better off when and if they reach their common goal. (Neither leaders nor tyrants are exclusively males, of course; the masculine gender is used throughout in a generic sense).

It is the presence of a following that compels leaders to act responsibly. They occupy their positions only by others’ consent. Responsibility is the lynchpin of leadership in a democratic society. A prime minister is responsible to the electorate; a general to the civil authority; a chief executive officer to the shareholders of his company. And every leader is responsible to those who follow him, no matter how many or how few.

It would be naïve to suppose that this system precludes autocratic behavior. There will always be those who love power for its own sake, and who will short circuit the system to put their own ambitions first. A tyrant refuses to work for a common cause and is pathologically afraid of rivals. He suppresses every superiority, does away with good men, forbids education and light, controls the movements of the citizens and keeping, them in perpetual servitude, want them to grow accustomed to baseness and cowardice. That was written by Aristotle in the 3rd century BC.

Unfortunately, leadership is very often confused with something else, its antithesis included. Burns cited a study in which people attributed 130 different meanings to the world. His own definition was the product of years of research and thinking about the subject. It is that leadership is a symbiotic relationship between those who lead and those who are led.