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Why managers, entrepreneurs and leaders think inside the box

What's the difference between leaders, managers and entrepreneurs? Our CEO gets annoyed by simplistic views on this subject. Her column is a must read.

Why managers, entrepreneurs and leaders think inside the box

I get irritated by all these simplistic pronouncements telling us about the difference between managers and leaders, and these very black-and-white statements that again and again emphasise the difference between entrepreneurs – the term sounds quite hip in Dutch – and managers. I find a few more of them whenever I look at my Facebook wall or LinkedIn stream. All too often, they come from the kind of entrepreneur whose concrete achievements are unclear to me: their supposedly pithy utterances, interspersed with trendy jargon, tend to distract one’s attention from their track record…

Every tweet or Facebook update on the topic increases my annoyance. Neither leaders nor entrepreneurs have a good word to say for the manager. This undisguised contempt is then rewarded by a herd of followers who meekly ‘like’ these assertions. Managers do things right while leaders do the right thing. Like. Entrepreneurs use both the left and right sides of the frontal parts of their brains. In comparison, managers tend to use primarily the left sides of the frontal part of their brains. Like.

I just don’t get it. It’s not just that it seems to me ludicrous to want to impose such rigid categories – because after all, wouldn’t you expect entrepreneurs and leaders to boast about their free-thinking qualities? It’s also the usefulness of constantly harping on about the differences that completely escapes me. I infinitely prefer talking about the qualities that managers, leaders and entrepreneurs need to share with each other. In the age of oversharing, doesn’t it obviously make sense to start sharing each other’s strengths a bit more? A holistic approach in which vision, strategy and execution are all central. Where there is room for both bold initiative and risk mitigation. Where passion, creativity and thoroughness aren’t contradictory, but actually reinforce each other. Where chaos and order can thrive together rampantly. This can only work to the benefit of businesses, employees and customers.

So what would I call myself, then, I hear you ask? Well, I’m just Anja. I try to do the right things, and to do them well. Shareholdings or bonuses have absolutely nothing to do with that. The Reference has existed for 21 years now, and employs some 120 people. Obviously it has to be managed. There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t turn up my nose at the prospect – quite the reverse. I would even admit that I can get quite excited in meetings by operational optimisations, and I can be quite passionate about the pivot tables of management and financial reporting.

At the same time, The Reference could never have achieved this degree of maturity without the necessary entrepreneurial flair. Fiery discussions of strategy followed by creative brainstorming sessions on innovation have led to investments in new expert centres (i.e. start-ups) or mini-businesses within the company. Today these are the catalysts of how The Reference will look tomorrow. As an entrepreneurial manager, you expand and renew at the same time. And that only works by stubbornly opposing any kind of in-the-box thinking as a manager. No organisation benefits from such a mentality. Nor do managers, leaders or entrepreneurs.

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The Reference has its office in the heart of Manhattan.
“I want to wake up in that city that never sleeps, and find I'm king of the hill, top of the list, head of the heap” – Frank Sinatra