Stop Using “Manager” as a Dirty Word!
If you read articles and books about leadership I can guarantee you’ve seen it. Perhaps you’ve even done it.
I am talking about using the term “manager” as a dirty word.
I get it. When talking about leadership, it is helpful to contrast good qualities to strive for with bad qualities using personas (good cop, bad cop). But please stop portraying the good as “leader” and the bad as “manager.” Pick another term to represent the bad!
Here are a few reasons why.
Who decided “manager” was negative?
When did “manager” become a negative term? Who decided to deride managers by making the term synonymous with “bad leader” or “ineffective leader”? And what about all the very effective managers out there who lead well on a daily basis?
Can’t we pick a better contrast to leader? One that doesn’t pick on a specific group of leaders?
Most people can’t pick their title.
It is a reality that in many organizations the term “manager” is an official title. Shift manager. Assistant manager. Sales manager. Customer service manager. Project manager. People in these positions didn’t choose the title that is on their business card. Someone else in the organization did.
So stop making them feel bad because of a title. Can’t they still “lead” as a manager? (If you are wondering, no, I do not have manager in my title.)
Have you ever met someone whose actual title was “leader”? If you did, my guess it’s because they were in a position to chose their own title.
Manager is a title. Leader is a category.
“Manager” is a leadership title much like director or coordinator or executive or chief, but “leader” is a broad term not usually used as a title. Contrasting these two terms is like contrasting “book” with “fiction” or “movie” with “romantic comedy”. In reality, managers are a specific category of leaders.
Managers ARE leaders.
Ultimately “managers” are leaders. An organization can only have one CEO or President or whatever term is used for the top leader, but does that mean that the organization only has one “leader”? Of course not.
The title “manager” typically applies to the dozens, or even hundreds, of leaders who lead in the middle and lower levels of the organization. Managers are vital to the operations of any medium to large sized organization. Tiers of leaders are necessary as an organization grows and the top-tier leaders are absolutely dependent on the managers that lead at the lower levels. An organization CANNOT scale without managers who lead well within the degree of latitude they are given.
If an organization has managers who are “bad leaders” isn’t it a reflection on the top-tier leaders who either hired the wrong people or don’t give the right people the leeway they need to lead well at their level?
What is the alternative?
Surely we can come up with a better term to contrast with leader. How about “boss”? It, like leader, is a broad term and not often a job title. I’ve never met someone with the official title boss (though I am guessing there is an exception out there). Would this be a more apt term for contrasting with leader? It is certainly more palatable to me and is one I have seen others use. Or maybe we just say “good leader” and “bad leader”.
The heart of the issue.
What I am saying is that using the term “manager” negatively creates an unnecessary devaluing of lower and mid level leadership positions, when it’s really about good leadership and bad leadership. It’s not that all the articles and books that contrast “manager” with “leader” are wrong in their concepts of what good leadership is, but that it creates a false dichotomy of terms. And, quite frankly, it can come across as arrogant.
The real issue is not whether you are a “manager” or a “leader”, but whether as a manager you lead well.
Instead of insulting managers, we should inspire leaders at ALL levels to continually improve and grow in their leadership…to NOT be satisfied with the negative persona they are so frequently saddled with…to embrace the level of leadership they DO have and to LEAD WELL from where they are!
– How about you? Do you agree or disagree? What term would you suggest we use instead?