The Difference between Leadership and Management

Leadership & Management

There are some people who use the words leadership and management inter-changeably – as two words that mean the same thing.  This bothers me.

Photo: Pixabay/geralt

Not because I am a stickler for correct usage of the english language (although that’s a perfectly acceptable reason) but because it stems from a lack of understanding that there is a difference between the two… and language matters.

In one of his early bestselling books Awaken the Giant Withinlife-coach Tony Robbins dedicated an entire chapter to unpacking the language we use to describe out emotional states.  He says:

“Words can injure our egos or inflame our hearts – we can instantly change any emotional experience simply by choosing new words to describe to ourselves what we’re feeling.  If, however, we fail to master words, and if we allow their selection to be determined strictly by unconscious habit, we may be denigrating our entire experience of life.  If you describe a magnificent experience as being “pretty good”, the rich texture of it will be smoothed and made flat by your limited use of vocabulary.  People with an impoverished vocabulary live an impoverished emotional life; people with rich vocabularies have a multi-hued palette of colours with which to paint their experience, not only for others, but for themselves as well.”

My concern is this:  if somebody – especially someone in a management role – does not deliberately choose to distinguish between leadership and management in their day to day conversation, it probably indicates that they do not distinguish between the two in their own cognitive frameworks for what these two things are… and therefore they do not comprehend that there are two different concepts for thinking about their role, their impact and their interactions with others.

In other words, the choice of language belies an inability to deliberately adjust leadership style to suit the situation at hand.  A one-dimensional manager, operating on autopilot.

What is the difference between leadership and management?

Leadership and Management: Being versus Doing

In a very simple way, management is what you do, leadership is how you do it.

Management can be described as a set of tasks – budgeting, reporting, setting expectations, recruitment, performance reviews, monitoring workflows, setting standards for quality and timeliness.

Leadership is the approach you bring to these tasks.  For example:

  • you bring a desire to grow and engage your team members with the clarity of your communication
  • you recognise them as individual people with motivations, passions, hopes and desires of their own
  • you look for opportunities to connect the dots for people – showing how their work contributes to the company’s strategy
  • you invite dialogue and feedback
  • you share information that assists others to be more effective

Leadership and Management: Mindset versus position

Leadership and Management
Photo: Pixabay/TeroVesalainen

Management is a job title.  Leadership is not.  Leadership is something you can demonstrate from any role – or even outside a work context altogether.

If you have management responsibilities as part of your job, then you need to learn how to ‘do’ management – but there are plenty of managers who are not leaders.  And there are many leaders with no formal management responsibilities.

But give me a leader who doesn’t manage over a manager who doesn’t lead any day of the week!

Leadership and Management: Serving versus being served

Leaders constantly look for ways to add value for those around them:  to grow others, to share insights, to break down barriers, to make an introduction…  Whatever it takes to enable the whole team (and beyond) to be successful.

Leaders don’t see themselves as more important than anyone else in the organisational hierarchy – they appreciate and value the contribution that everyone makes to achieving results.

A great leader takes more than their share of the blame, and hardly any of the credit.

Managers who lack leadership tend to see their team members as ‘resources’ to be deployed.  A means to an end.

And in the worst cases, poor managers blame the team for their own failures, and use their positional power to gain submission and compliance.

Leadership and Management: Showing versus telling

Leadership and Management
Photo: Pixabay/Michi-Nordlicht

In the absence of leadership, management is about power and authority.  It is about “because I said so”.

Managers give instructions and expect them to be followed, where leaders roll up their sleeves and show you how it’s done.

Managers (who lack leadership) get annoyed when their employees get it wrong, whereas leaders will reflect on their own contribution to the failure, and seek feedback on what they should have done differently to enable the team member to be successful.

Leadership and Management: A calling versus a job

Leadership and Management
Photo: Pixabay/Markgraf-Ave

Leaders don’t need to wait for permission to lead – they know that they can have an impact, and that the world is a better place because of their efforts.  They know that their actions stem from an authentic self, and that their purpose and motivation is true.

Managers who lack leadership jockey for position, squabble over budgets and resources, curry favour as a means to extend their power base, and ultimately focus on the small stuff at the expense of people, relationships, and the bottom line.

Why does understanding the difference between leadership and management matter?

Because being a manager with leadership skills is far more valuable than just being a manager – and ultimately, if the only tool you have in your toolkit is a hammer…

Leadership and Management
Photo: Pixabay/Stevepb

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