What is the difference between being a business leader and the leader of the Free World?

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By: Center For Worklife - Expert Reviewer

What is the difference between being a business leader and the leader of the Free World?

In order to address this question we have to first discuss the difference between leaders and managers.  Both are important to the success of an organization or institution, but there is a fundamental philosophical and operational difference between a leader and a manager. And the differences become even more compelling in government.

In simple terms: A leader seeks to transform an organization by painting a vision of the future that both inspires and motivates others to work toward that end. A manager has more of a transactional mindset that integrates planning with tasks and tactics to achieve an objective. Not surprisingly, the results of the two efforts are startlingly different.

The difficulty here then lies in being both.  The more transformational a leader is, the less capability he/she has to act as a manager; and the more transactional a manager is, the less capability he/she has to act as a leader.  This is not to say either has negative intentions, we are just extrapolating the difference between their roles.  And let me reiterate by saying that we need both types.

A transformational leader’s success is usually directly proportional to their ability to communicate the idea, as well as show respect and concern for others in a way that inspires them to join together to achieve the vision. A transactional manager’s success is usually in direct proportion to their power and authority to direct the actions of others, not necessarily to influence their behavior.

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Table of Contents

While the transformational and transactional styles are mutually exclusive, it is possible to mix-n-match these styles in business. A visionary CEO has the platform to communicate and inspire; and can hire managers to help fulfill the vision. A manager CEO has the authority to develop and implement processes and procedures. Most often the success of an organization is inspired by a visionary leader and maintained by a manager.  So why doesn’t this apply to the leadership of a country?

Government is Not a Business

These differences are especially evident in government operations. American government is structured in a way that gives a transactional manager a hopeless assignment. The president is not the CEO of America. The constitution vests the president with the responsibility to lead the country, but not the authority to manage it. The constitution consigns to Congress the power to pass laws, declare war, print money and decide how the country will operate. The president can influence, but cannot command. (In fact, the office of the president was an afterthought of the Constitutional Convention, created as a safeguard to represent the people against the explicit power of Congress.)

It is the popular belief and the optimistic view that in difficult times – especially when the problems are economic in nature – America would benefit from the talents of a successful transactional manager as president.   However, is it the logical view? All individuals inherently know the difference between a transactional and transformational leader.  Even if they don’t have a name for each, they can recognize the difference when they see and hear them speak.

Around the world we have been witness to both types.  But The American people have historically recognized this distinction between a leader and a manager in the role as president, because the vast majority of the 44 men elected to the office of president have been transformational leaders. Only two presidents – Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter – were clearly transactional, structural and tactical leaders; and their results while in office proved it.  Hence it was not an accident that they were one-term presidents. (Is it a coincidence that both were engineers who believed that process and procedure was the path to solving problems?)

In times of chaos, despair, and financial hardship, a transformation within follower is the only way, there will be any movement toward change.  The leader with the higher emotional intelligence rather than the tactics will be able to lead the masses.

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