Published On: July 4, 2012

Are you a Teaser or a Pleaser?

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By Dr. Finn Majlergaard

To put it another way: Are you a Leader or a Manager? If you have doubts about whether you are one or the other, or if you believe there is no difference, this article is for you.

As there seems to be a significant increase in the use of the title “leader”, I think it is about time we discuss what it takes to be a leader as opposed to being a manager. At the business schools where I am teaching, I run a course called “Leadership across Cultures”, and in the first class of the semester, I always ask my students how many of them want to become leaders. Not surprisingly, everyone raises his/her hands. It is cool being a leader these days.


When we start looking at our heroes – the men and women we see as leaders — we begin to see a glimpse of what it takes to be a leader. Leading means taking risks, break the norms, rules and sometimes the laws in order to pursue what you really believe in. We follow people who genuinely believe in something and who are willing to make huge sacrifices to fulfill their mission. They tease us because we tend to admire them while holding them in contempt at the same time. We hold them in contempt because they have the courage to pursue a new path and by doing so they step outside the norms of their existing group culture. Leaders are focused on their mission – not the formal status of being a leader. Leaders are elected by their followers, who admire them.

The number of students who want to become leaders usually declines over the semester when the realize what it takes to become a leader, and there are plenty of reasons for not pursuing this career path. It is high-risk, and usually very poorly paid – unless you succeed, of course. Also, you might find yourself excluded from your group and primary culture.


Becoming a manager is much easier and much more comfortable. As a manager, you don’t need followers since you are appointed by your superiors to manage a group of people. It is low risk as your job is well-defined, and you don’t have to put your own credibility on the line. It is just a job. As a manager you are supposed to reinforce rules and norms so you will never find yourself excluded from your group as long as you do what you are told to do. You even get a good salary. Managers are pleasers. They instinctively know that they only have their position as long as the current system remains. As soon as the systems change, their position is in danger. So they will please their superiors – at least as long as they believe that their superiors can guarantee them a monthly paycheck.

At Gugin, where I work, we facilitate the integration of organisations after mergers or acquisitions. In most of these cases, a lot of managers find themselves in a position where they don’t feel they can rely on their superiors’ ability to guarantee a paycheck in the future. They – the middle managers – feel let down by the system. The feeling is understandable; it is however crucially important to tackle it correctly and in time in order to avoid disasters. That requires leadership, and that is sometimes difficult to find in organisations where management and not leadership has been the dominant behavior.

Who are you?

You know best who you are, but it is important to state that we need both managers and leaders in the world. With only managers, there would be no innovation or progress and no paradigm shifts. With only leaders, there would be one billion great ideas and we would all die from starvation. The relationship between managers and the leaders is a great example of how we benefit from cultural diversity and cultural reconciliation.

For the final exam this semester, I gave my students the assignment to write about which rules and norms they would be willing to break in order to become leaders. They are qualified to write about that because I have taught them about leadership for four months. We have done exercises on it, and I have provoked them, teased them, and hopefully enlightened and encouraged them to try to make a difference. Their exam papers were a pleasure to read and I will reveal some of their conclusions in another article.

If you are teased, I suggest you sign up for our next “Leadership Across Cultures” workshop, which we will conduct in Paris on October 8, 2012.

Click on the link below for more information.

Leadership Across Cultures Workshop 8. October, Paris

Dr. Finn Majlergaard is a managing partner at Gugin. He can be contacted at:

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