Leadership versus Management

Is there a Difference between
Leading and Managing?

My focus on Learn-to-be-a-Leader.com is on leadership versus management. But are these just different words that really mean the same thing? Some organisations seem to use the term leader as a more fashionable term for a manager. But there is a difference between the two roles, although please remember that many people combine both in one job.

I believe:

“A leader is someone whose direction and approach
other people are willing to follow.”

And therefore, I see leadership as:

“Influencing others to follow a given direction.”

The body that was set up in the UK to define national standards for managers (the Management Charter Initiative, or MCI) defined the role of the manager as:

“Helping the organisation to achieve its objectives
and to continually improve its performance”

Although the MCI no longer exists, its successor, the Management Standards Centre, has continued to use this definition.

Same difference?

At the core of this definition management is about purpose, structure, disciplines, processes, delivery and the mechanics of an organisation. We can contrast this with leadership, which is about vision, direction, influence, communication and the aspirations of people.

Ancient Romans and Anglo Saxons

One way of thinking about leadership versus management is to consider the differences between the Ancient Romans and the Anglo Saxons. The Ancient Romans were structured, well organised and disciplined. They were role models for management. The Anglo Saxons operated as small tribes, led by charismatic chieftains who ruled by the will of their people and based on loyalties to a territorial ideal. Their style exemplified leadership.

Authority and power

Managers get their authority and power from being appointed to a position by more senior managers. Leaders get their authority and power from being able to influence and persuade others to follow them.

This is why I often refer to leaders being recognised as such by their followers. In fact, they can’t be leaders until they have people to follow them!

This point about authority does raise the possibility of conflict between those appointed (ie, managers) and those anointed (ie, leaders). But thats a very different meaning of management versus leadership!

Short, medium or long term view

Another difference between leadership versus management is that managers, as disciplined organisers and deliverers, often have to focus on the short to medium term whereas leaders, who provide vision and direction, are primarily concerned with the medium to long term.

Perhaps I am oversimplifying this distinction but it might help us to understand that leadership versus management are two different, if related, functions.

Things right or right thing?

You might have heard the saying that “Managers do things right, leaders do the right thing.”

To put it another way, managers concentrate on tasks, rules and compliance (that is, doing things right) while leaders concentrate on people, principles and purpose (that is, doing the right thing).

Separate and distinct, or related?

These various distinctions between leadership versus management might come across as suggesting that leadership and management are completely separate. In reality, actual people don't do either one or the other. They probably do some of each.

Strictly speaking its not leadership versus management. The two are not separate or bipolar. They overlap. You can think of them as on a continuum with many steps between the extremes.

Think of the distinctions as the two ends of a slider control that can be adjusted to emphasise one function or the other. Each leader / manager will adopt an approach somewhere between the two extremes, reflecting their skills and preferred management or leadership style.

Skills and qualities

Just as the role and functions of leaders and managers are different, so are the skills and qualities that people need to be good at each. I will examine the skills and qualities of a leader in detail elsewhere but just think what skills (things people can do) and qualities (things that people are) a good manager will need.

They might include:

  • Understanding goals and objectives
  • Well organised
  • Able to prioritise and plan
  • Good communicator
  • Works with groups and individuals
  • Decision maker
  • Works to systems, processes and procedures
  • Monitors, reviews and improves.

And so on.

Looking at this list, you might put some (but probably not all) of these items on a similar list for leaders. The two roles have their distinctive features but do overlap!

In practice many people are good managers as well as good leaders. But it is also true that many good managers are not so good at leadership and many good leaders are not so good at management!

An example from the television

As I was writing this page, my family were watching a programme on the television. It featured a businessman setting up a new hotel.

His vision was for a different style of hotel, totally flexible to demanding and wealthy guests who expected all services at any hour of the day or night. He challenged conventional approaches, was flamboyant and his staff and suppliers had many difficulties working with him.

When he interviewed candidates for the position of general manager, he realised that he needed someone with different skills to his own. He looked for someone who excelled at being disciplined, organised and customer focussed.

To put it another way, he sought a “manager” to complement him as a “leader”, who would concentrate on management versus leadership - the latter rather then the former seeming to be what he enjoyed doing!.

Leader and manager partnerships

Many strong leaders rely on a very different person as their “number two”. They choose someone who complements them in that they have a very different personality, skill set and ways of working. In short, someone who is an excellent manager. These partnerships can often become very inter-dependent with the two people concerned moving jobs from organisation to organisation together.

In conclusion ...

To wrap this up, is there a difference between leadership versus management? Yes, but the two are related, they overlap and many people combine both roles, just emphasising one more than the other.

So, while I am going to focus on leadership, in Learning-to-be-a-Leader, we might well get the added benefit of also learning some useful stuff about management.

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