The first example of a manganese(iii) catalyst for the acceptorless dehydrogenation of alcohols is presented. N,N′-Bis(salicylidene)-1,2-cyclohexanediaminomanganese(iii) chloride (2) has been shown to catalyze the direct synthesis of imines from a variety of alcohols and amines with the liberation of hydrogen gas. The mechanism has been investigated experimentally with labelled substrates and theoretically with DFT calculations. The results indicate a metal-ligand bifunctional pathway in which both imine groups in the salen ligand are first reduced to form a manganese(iii) amido complex as the catalytically active species. Dehydrogenation of the alcohol then takes place by a stepwise outer-sphere hydrogen transfer generating a manganese(iii) salan hydride from which hydrogen gas is released.