The Difference Between a Manager and a Leader is Innovation, says Ross Dean

When I'm not surfing the web for the latest news from b-schools, sometimes I'm just surfing the web. A site I really enjoy is Big Think, which features interviews with thoughtful people across many disciplines: business leaders, authors, actors, activists and others share their ideas on the big and not-so-big issues of the day. Every so often the site even features a b-school luminary, as it did recently with the University of Michigan Ross School of Business Dean, Robert Dolan.


Dolan discusses the difference between a manager and a leader, saying that the main distinction is one of innovation:

The manager can very effectively manage the status quo and do things in a way that delivers historical profitability. The leaders are the people who are really seeing the new opportunities and establishing the values for the organization.
He classifies leaders as people who do the following:
  • 1. Develop great talent and makes the organization better simply by being a part of it
  • 2. See new opportunities and push the organization in new directions
  • 3. Act as a moral compass for the organization, someone whose values are going to be adopted by others in the company
Dolan shares his leadership trial-by-fire story as well. He became the dean of Ross a month prior to September 11. "The job market kind of declined rather rapidly for our students. And the problem was you come in as dean and within a heartbeat, everybody is saying to you, well, what's your vision?" he says.

How did Dolan react? He did his homework and resisted the pressure to announce a strategy right away. Instead, he says he thought deeply and "visited enough companies so that I could really get a vision of what I wanted to try to do to the school."

Dolan also discusses the state of business schools, including those ever-present ethics concerns, and other business advice throughout the interview. If you have an hour to spare, click on the video and watch the whole thing. If not, watch a few shorter clips.