I apologize. The title is a trick question. You must be both, but you need to be aware which hat you have on and why. My guess is you have been too busy to think about the question or notice the distinction, and as a result, you may not be using your time and energy efficiently. To understand the difference between the two, it helps to know the difference between strategy and tactics.
Strategy is a big picture concept. It represents a large goal. Strategy is tied to your Vision. Ultimately, it is what you seek to accomplish.
Tactics is how you get to that goal. It is what you do day in and day out. While Strategy is tied to your Vision, Tactics are aligned with your Mission. Focusing only on tactics is like building a house when you have no idea what it should look like when done.
What does this have to do with being a leader or a manager? Leaders hold the Vision. Managers carry out the Mission. If you still don’t have a Mission and Vision you are likely to work very hard and not have a sense of accomplishment.
With your Mission and Vision as a guide, you are both a manager and a leader—but not simultaneously. When you organize your day, teach your classes, collaborate with teachers, or do your book order, you are being a manager. When you develop a budget, organize a school-wide project, plan to genre-fy your collection, you are being a leader.
The business world recognizes the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) as the leader, and the Chief Operations Officer (COO) is the manager. But even corporate America is becoming aware that some blending happens and, in some businesses as with school librarians, one person does both.
An often-cited brief distinction between the two roles is that leaders have people follow them and managers have people work for them. At first glance, it would seem you have neither. But when you plan a project, you enroll people to join in and follow your vision for it. Having people “follow’ you is at the heart of advocacy. If you are fortunate to have clerical help or volunteers, they obviously work for you. In a more limited way, as you direct/guide students on their tasks they are doing the work you have given them.
ResourcefulManagement.com has an infographic comparing 17 traits distinguishing leaders from managers. I’ve talked about several of them in earlier blogs but there are others I think it is helpful to consider such as:
Tells vs. Sells – The manager says, “This is what I want you to do, and this is how to do it. The leader says, “I have this great idea and I know it will work if I can get you to be part of it.” You are leading when this is how you approach a new project.
Minimizes Risks vs. Takes Risks – Managers follow the status quo. Leaders take the program in a larger direction. I remind you frequently that you need to take risks. Small ones at first and larger ones as you prove your worth.
Sees a Problem vs. Sees an Opportunity – It’s easy to see (and complain) about obstacles and problems. A leader recognizes problems are an opening into new territory. It’s called a “choppertunity” – a challenge that presents an opportunity. How creative can you be? What risk will be needed?
Follows the Map vs. Carves New Roads –This is similar to which one takes risks, but the reminder is you won’t get far if you keep doing only what you have been doing before. You are either growing or dying. First, understand the map, then look to find the places to create new roads.
Establishes Rules vs. Breaks Rules – Once again, there is an element of risk in the difference between the two roles. How many of you will allow food in the library? Allow kids to borrow books even if they have overdues? And those are the most common rules. Where are rules keeping your program from growing? Where are rules keeping your program running smoothly? Shine a bright light on these rules and see which ones are serving and which are holding you back.
Assigns Duties vs. Fosters Ideas – As a librarian, you strive to foster ideas from students doing assignments, but have you looked at ways you can foster ideas from teachers about improving your program? The end users often have ideas of what they want, what they like, and what they don’t like. Involve them in taking your program to the next step.
Does Things Right vs. Does the Right Thing – Obviously you need to do both. Just know when to do what. Purchasing books you fear might be challenged is doing the right thing. Showing you are a team player is doing things right.
For most of your day, you need to be a manager. But to manage well, you need to know where you, the leader, is going. And remember this quote by that great philosopher, Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.”