In the 19th century, Karl Marx famously identified religion as the opium of the people. In the 21st century, the opium of the people is content. Massive amounts of content are generated and consumed daily by billions of people who increasingly resemble faithful followers, if not outright drug addicts.
The only difference is that, today, anyone can create his own personal brand of religion and attract a flock of followers to his blog or book. Today, anyone can be a leader. I guess that explains why so many who’ve never run a business or managed a soul call themselves leaders, entrepreneurs and CEOs.
Sadly, titles that used to be reserved for those who actually earned them have become so diluted that they’re now nothing but fanciful labels for anyone to use in their social media profiles to make themselves feel special. That’s how words that used to be special have become meaningless.
But I’m not ready to give up without a fight. Terms like entrepreneur, chief executive officer, manager and leader are too important to our way of life. They represent great achievement and the promise of the American Dream. So I’m taking a stand against their wholesale dilution and the ad-hoc corruption of their meaning.
I’m particularly disturbed by the ludicrous distinctions being made between the terms leader and manager. If you Google those two words, you’ll be blinded by millions of results: articles, posts, listicles, videos and infographics of every self-proclaimed expert’s version of the similarities and differences between them.
Good thing Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, didn’t live to see the day. He’d be absolutely incensed by all the nonsense.
I was recently struck by an interview where LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner – a solid executive who’s done a great job running the world’s most popular business network – made a very clear distinction between managers and leaders:
“I personally believe Leadership is about the ability to inspire others to achieve shared objectives,” he said. “I think that’s what separates leaders from managers. Managers tell people what to do and leaders inspire them to do it.”
While his definition of leadership is fairly accurate, the distinction between leaders and managers is an inaccurate reflection of popular dogma. In the real business world, the two skill-sets go hand-in-hand. You can’t be very successful at one without the other. Ironically, that includes Weiner.
A manager is a job title that describes some sort of functional responsibility. Sometimes managers have direct reports and sometimes they don’t. Either way, they all need the support of others to help them get their jobs done and generate results. And that’s pretty hard to do without leadership skills.
I don’t care how you slice and dice the rhetoric; a manager who lacks leadership skills will never be an effective manager. Conversely, those who can inspire and influence others but lack the management chops to back it up will probably end up as motivational speakers, self-help book authors or politicians.
In the business world, one skill-set without the other will likely lead to failure. The argument is entirely academic. A difference without a distinction.
Funny thing is, we use the terms interchangeably in the corporate world. Some companies call it a leadership team, others call it a management team. You say tomato, I say tomahto. But make no mistake; managers don’t just order people around. That’s ludicrous. So is this: Guess what term LinkedIn uses? Management team.
A version of this originally appeared on FoxBusiness.com.
Image credit YouTube screen shot