Steven Cerri International

Engineer to Leader Article/e-Zine (#5) 

"Interpersonal communication, management, and leadership training, coaching,  

and mentoring for engineers, scientists, technologists, and technical managers"

 This article/e-Zine topic:  "Why Everyone Wants To Be A Leader"

You have heard me say that management and leadership are two sides of the same coin; a good manager must at times lead and a good leader must at times manage.  This has been a good distinction and definition for me.

However, it has not explained why so many people want to be leaders and do not particularly want to be managers.  Nor why the literature is filled with references to leadership as a default style and management is applied to specific situations.
Well, I think I have finally determined why so many people feel this way and why the literature is filled with this bias. The explanation, at least my explanation, is in this eZine.


Being A Leader Is Cool

It is an interesting phenomenon that being a "leader" seems to be a more highly respected title than "manager". Currently, the general literature and consensus opinion seems unanimously to proclaim that leadership is something really cool and management is, well, not so cool.  


Management is often relegated to the "middle zone" in organizations, such as "middle management" and leadership is relegated to the top level, such as "CEO" or "C-suite". Therefore, we might conclude that the reason people want to be called leaders as opposed to managers is because the title "leader' has more prestige. 


I have found in my coaching and training that I often encounter people who just have an aversion to the term management and not necessarily because it is associated with lower levels in the organization. There seems to be something else driving their perception.


We also find that the difference between management and leadership is often defined by short quips such as:


"Leaders know what to do; managers know how to do it."




"Leaders inspire and managers perspire."


These phrases, in my opinion, are pretty useless.  They do not move anyone to a specific behavior that differentiates management from leadership in any meaningful way.


There is no doubt that there is general agreement that it is better to be a leader than it is to be a manager.  You cannot imagine how many times I have heard people say they do not want to be a manager or they do not want to be called a manger; they want to be a leader and they want to be called a leader. Even business magazine articles proclaim the leadership qualities of people one or two years out of college.


With all this floating around in my head I recently came to the realization of another reason people may prefer leadership compared to management.... a reason other than the prestige afforded the title of leader. I did not read this anywhere.  I was not told this by anyone.  So if you agree or do not agree... the credit or not, is all mine.


So What Is The New Big Deal?

Here is the question that apparently has not been asked.  The question is: "What is the common goal of both management and leadership?"


The answer, from my perspective, is:  Influence!


Both management and leadership endeavor to "influence" a person or a group of people in a specific way to ultimately take a desired action.  In the final analysis the goal of either management or leadership is to influence people to take action in the way that the manager or the leader want them to in order to achieve an outcome.


Now before we take this too much further lets be clear about this thing called "influence".  Some people do not like the term influence.  It sounds too manipulative.  Some people believe that managers or leaders do not have the "right" to influence others to do anything.  


There are some who take this to the extreme and proclaim that it is impossible to motivate a person to do anything. Journal articles I have read have even gone so far as to proclaim that people are either motivated or they are not. The idea in these articles is that managers do not have the responsibility nor the ability to influence their employees.  The employees either "step up to the plate" or they do not.  And if they do not they are fired or moved to another organization. I think this philosophy and approach is nonsense. 


My experience has convinced me that it is the job of the manager and of the leader to influence their direct reports to achieve the desired outcomes, and influence is real and necessary.


In fact, it is impossible for any of us to "not motivate or demotivate" others; it is impossible for us "to not influence others" when we interact with them. Every time we communicate with another person we are attempting to influence them in some fashion.  


Imagine entering a restaurant and asking the maitre d or hostess for a table.  Further, imagine that the maitre d or the hostess begins to lead you to a corner table away from any windows. Now imagine that when you realize where you are going to be seated you ask for a table near a window.  Ah, influence!  There it is.  Simple.  "I would like a table near the window."  A table near the window is the outcome of the influence you have just attempted.


It is clear that almost every communication we have with another person is an attempt to influence them, an attempt to motivate or change their behavior or their thinking to something different, something we desire.  We cannot avoid it.


One more question. I think most people believe that there are managers that they would not want to work for. These are managers who, they would claim, are truly "de-motivating". If it is possible to have a de-motivating manager is it not possible to have a motivating manager as well?


I would say that influence is part of our "communication DNA", and if this is true it leads me to the difference between management and leadership.


Back To The Question 

If the goal of management or leadership is influence, then what is the difference between them?  If the goal of management or leadership is to move people to take action toward a desired outcome, why is one favored and the other not?


The answer is that the difference is obviously not in what they are attempting to accomplish (influence); it is in how they go about accomplishing it.


Here is what I mean. The most succinct way to say it is this:


Management implies the act of influence through the exercise of authority... while... 


Leadership implies the act of influence without the exercise authority or, as I like to say it, through alignment.


The implied use and non-use of authority, respectively, is what makes management less appealing than leadership.


Therefore, in a nutshell we might say that:


Management is influence through the application of authority (positional, real, or perceived).


Leadership is influence without the application of authority.


The above definitions are not definitions I subscribe to 100%; I believe that the distinctions between management and leadership are more complex. But I do believe that the distinctions I have made above contribute to the differences in perception in the general population regarding management and leadership.


Why Is This Important?

From my perspective, this explains why so many people want to be called leaders and not managers.  Here in the United States especially, we have an aversion to authority.  We are used to a certain level of "independence". Therefore, most people would rather be "inspired" to do something than be "told" to do something.


While we all learn to take direction from "authority figures" many people would rather not.  We would rather be "excited" about what we are doing than "have" to do it.  This may, in fact, not be something that is only a US perspective. It may be something that is truly a human motivational force... but I do not have enough data to take a position.  


There are certain observations that my experience supports however. One is that this phenomenon of wanting not to be "told" what to do but rather being "inspired to figure it out on our own" is probably especially true for engineers!


What Of Engineers, Scientists, & Technical Professionals?

What is the dominant philosophy of engineers and scientists?  It is that "data rules".  We do not need a personal authority figure making decisions for us.  The data will tell us what the right decision is. So "leadership" fits nicely into the mental and operational paradigms of engineers; data rules, authority is not necessary to make good decisions. On the other hand, management smacks of someone telling us what to do, perhaps even without regard for data.  Management implies the employee "being told" to act. Leadership implies the employee "agreeing" to act.


We Need Both

As much as we would all like to be leaders and to be led, it just does not work out that way.  If we adopt the definition that management is about motivating through authority and leadership is about motivating without authority or through alignment, then there are times when management is better than leadership and vise versa.  


That is, there are times when it is better to use authority to influence and there are times when it is better to not use authority to influence. 


Those of you who have taken my training titled "Influencing Without Authority" know that in that class we work on ways to influence when we have no authority or when we do not want to use authority. The training is leadership in its purest form.


Conversely those of you who have taken my Management/Leadership courses know that there are times to manage (i.e., using authority) and times to lead (i.e., not using authority) and the decision regarding when to use which process is a function of the situation or the "context".  Hence the title of these trainings is: "Contextual Management and Leadership".


The Summary Is Important

This then becomes the bottom line for your consideration.  It may not be the true definition nor the best definition... but it may be a useful definition, and I think it explains the driving force for the opinions of more people than we might think.


Management is influence through authority, positional or otherwise.  

Corollary: management is influence through the alignment of primarily one motivational force, the respect for authority.   



Conclusion: to many people this is the least desirable way to be motivated.   



Leadership is influence without the use of authority, positional or otherwise, but through alignment.  

Corollary: leadership is influence through alignment with the motivational forces inherent in the person being motivated... this is why leadership is thought to "inspire".  When the leader "aligns" the reason for taking action with the motivational forces of the people taking the action, then the motivation becomes personal; hence the definition of "inspiration". Influencing Without Authority requires that you understand the personal motivational forces of the people you are attempting to motivate.   



Conclusion: to most people being led, being influenced without the application of authority is the most desirable way to be motivated. For many engineers who are newly placed in positions of responsibility (i.e., team lead, lead engineer, program lead, program manager, etc.) it is often their most desirable approach by which to get others to accomplish tasks. Unfortunately, leadership is often the least effective means for the new manager to achieve results.   



If you are specifically interested in learning more about Influencing Without Authority, check out the the trainings listed at


Be well,


Interested in Advancing your Career in Engineering
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Be well,


Steven Cerri

STCerri International
Steven Cerri
STCerri International
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