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Management vs. Leadership – A manager is responsible; a leader is accountable

June 19, 2013

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Management vs. Leadership – A manager is responsible; a leader is accountable

Article by Jeffrey Harbeson

In our business world we are inundated with all sorts of educational title acronyms that seem to provide status following the name of the beholders; i.e., MBA, PhD, CFP, CLTC, CFSP and so on.  Of course, there are position titles out of the wazoo; CEO, CFO, COO, CMO, CTO, etc., etc.

Each of the acronyms above has no bearing of actual skill or practical application.  After all, if you study hard enough and apply yourself, a degree or professional designation can be earned in most any field.  As for position, having the degreedesignation and track record of performance along with well played “politics” will often land the much coveted position title.

But, how many people do we personally know that have an impressive educational resume and can’t find their car in a parking lot?  These same people have the ability to solve the Pythagorean Theory or create an elaborate, multipage Excel spreadsheet, but cannot conduct a conversation other than on their “professional” subject matter. How many people do we personally know that have risen in the company ranks with absolutely no talent, but somehow always seem to climb the preverbal ladder?  This particular group is always scrutinized by underlings with the notion that the promotions are due because of unsavory photos of other’s above their level from the past.

The combination of all the titles in the business community is generally packed into the category of “management.”  Webster defines management:”The act or art of managing (to make and keep compliant; to exercise executive, administrative and supervisory direction).”Some progressive firms will use the term “leadership” as the people running the company instead, so please consider the following definition of leadership.  We can pretty much agree that the term “management” is never used in the U.S. Military…so I would like to provide a definition of military leadership from my alma matter, The North Carolina Military Academy:  “The art of influencing and directing men in such a way as to obtain their willing obedience, confidence, respect and loyal cooperation in order to accomplish the mission.”

During my service in the military, I had the opportunity to perform duties as a Tactical Officer, or basically known as a “drill instructor” for Officer’s Candidate School (OCS). OCS is an opportunity for Enlisted or Non-Commissioned Officers to earn a commission as an Officer in the US Military. I had direct responsibility for training over 400 OCS candidates many of which were commissioned as officers…several are still serving as senior officers and in combat today. With my professional business and military experience, I’m going to take editorial liberty to provide my personal opinions and observations of the differences between a manager and a leader.

A manager creates schedules, guidelines and rules to follow; a leader provides the example to follow.  A manager looks for imperfections; a leader polishes imperfections.  A manager can be copied; a leader is the original. A manager makes sure to cover his/her own tracks citing policy or regulations; a leader makes decisions based on what’s best without regard for his/her own personal wellbeing.  A manager accepts, a leader challenges.  A manager always does the right thing; a leader does what’s right.  A manager is responsible; a leader is accountable.

When I think of managers, the image comes to my mind of the suspender wearing, coffee cup carrying, management by walking around guy in the 1999 movie Office Space; Bill Lembergh.  I have a few others in mind (yes, even some in the funeral industry); however I will not mention them by name as they are probably reading this article and would think that by using their name it would bring them notoriety to their already bloated ego.

I have been personally blessed with many that shaped my DNA as a leader and I am grateful for their examples.  As for well-knownleaders, I liked the style of George C. Patton; yes he did make mistakes, but he got the mission accomplished. My favorite scene in the movie Pattonis when the General (George C. Scott) shot the mules on the bridge because the mules and cart were stopping an entire column of American troops, tanks and vehicles leaving them exposed to the enemy.  Soldiers were trying to pull the stubborn mules off the bridge to no avail.  General Patton drives up and barks “Jackasses? You let a whole column get stalled and strafed because of a couple of jackasses…what the hell is the matter with you?”  Subsequently, Patton pulls out his pearl handled .45 weapon, shoots the mules after which they were tossed over the side of the bridge, and the 3rd Army moved forward.  Are there any leaders like that in your company?  Or does management have to study why the mules are on the bridge in the first place and could a new bridge be built to go around the mules?

One of the most personally profound leadership statements and examples (besides the definition of military leadership above) that I have ever known was from the movie “Shindlers List” depicting Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) conversing with the evil German prison camp commander, Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes).  In a nutshell, Schindler tells Goeth that “ultimate power is the ability to pardon.”In other words, just because you have someone completely proved wrong, perhaps providing them forgiveness and opportunity may offer greater loyalty along with better performance in the future.  Managers don’t make a 100% score on every test…so why should they demand those that work them to be perfect?  We surely could use more of the integrated Patton/Schindler-types leadership in our world today.

In conclusion, when I am introduced to someone as a manager or position in a company that is followed by a litany of lettered acronyms, my skepticism radar starts pinging.  I have developed a personal measurement test of their leadership acumen.  After chatty initial conversation I ask “are you married…tell me about your family.”  Yes, it sounds old school and too personal, but remember, I’m not the “PC” type of leader.  Their answer will tell me everything I need to know about the character and ability to lead…after all, being a husband or wife and a parent is undeniably one of the toughest positions to hold.  If you’re not good at those positions and proud to share with me those successes, how do you lead a company?  Of all the defining qualities…which would you rather have as a spouse, parent or boss?  A manager or a leader? FBA

Jeffrey McCoy Harbeson is the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Funeral Finance, LLC™ from the National Field Office in Charlotte, NC. Funeral Finance, LLC’s Customer Service Center is located in Langhorne, PA and is serving funeral homes nationally. He can be reached at 540.589.7821, or by email at [email protected], or visit

Source: [Funeral Business Advisor]