What Distinguishes Leaders From Managers?

Author: David McMillin       

What do you think of when you hear the term “leader”? Maybe you assume the person has a C-level title attached to his or her name, or perhaps you think of someone dressed in a power suit. Regardless of the image that pops into your head, you most likely associate the idea of leading with the action of managing people. However, Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s CEO, made a distinction between the two in a recent interview in The New Yorker.

“Management is about a contract, which is, you manage me because you’re higher up on the level, and you pay me and do my review,” Khosrowshahi told Sheelah Kolhatkar. “Leadership is about the heart.”

Khosrowshahi’s perspective is not designed to be a memorable soundbite — although it certainly should land him on a list of the most quotable CEOs in America. It should also help repair the company’s reputation after Uber founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down last year after a series of scandals. Instead, it’s his honest reflection after one of the most challenging times during his tenure as the CEO of Expedia. Khosrowshahi had to host a company-wide meeting to announce layoffs in the midst of the 2008 financial meltdown. “It was a really emotional moment for me, personally,” he said. “Even though I was the one responsible for the firings, the company saw that it hurt.”

Khosrowshahi’s thoughts on leadership can serve as a reminder for anyone in a position of authority. There are many pressures that come with being a leader: maintaining the financial well-being of an organization, taking responsibility for failed experiments, creating a culture of respect, outlining a strategic plan for growth, and answering to a board of directors. All these tasks are indeed important, but having the emotional capacity to recognize how each decision impacts individual employees — both in and out of the workplace environment — is a crucial piece of becoming more than a manager.

No matter what role you play in the events industry, you most likely have someone reporting to you and handling tasks that you’ve delegated to them. As you work to make them feel valued, perhaps you would be wise to pay less attention to the contract of management that Khosrowshahi mentioned or the next performance review on the calendar, and focus more on thinking and acting with your heart.

Looking for more tips on putting that sense of heart at the front of everything you do? Check out “Why Being Mean Won’t Help You Be a Good Leader.”

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