What Is the Difference Between Management and Leadership?

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Forbes.com

October 11, 2018

By Terina Allen

The article made me do it.

I didn’t plan to write this article. I didn’t want to write yet another thing about the definition, value and distinctions of management and leadership. I thought we were passed this (by “we” I refer to the collective group of executives, managers, consultants and leaders out here). But after reading yet another article this morning that kept encouraging managers and directors to “better manage” their people, I realized that we are not. This was an article published by a highly reputable institution advising managers to manage other people. They got it so wrong.

If you currently are or have ever been one of my colleagues, clients, students or in any of my leadership workshops, you have surely already heard this. I ask you to bear with me. One of the articles I read this morning made me do it.

The mindset caused me to cringe inside.

I cringed inside because the more I read, the more I realized that this was not just semantics and a difference on word choice. No. It was an outright mindset that really pushed forward the theory that we—people—could ever actually manage other people and do it effectively.

That mindset is a problem for me since most people cannot even effectively manage themselves, their own lives, their families, etc. How can one possibly be expected to manage another person or a group of people? Add to this that today’s employees are expected to (at least in theory) actually make great contributions to their organizations and make their supervisors look good. The more I read, the more I realized how far we still have to go with distinguishing these two key competencies.

Leadership and management are both necessary, but they are different.

Leadership and management are both necessary competencies that add institutional value. Neither is superior or inferior to the other; they are just different. We manage things such as programs, budgets, contracts, projects and processes, but we should be leading people. The idea of ‘managing’ people just sounds demeaning in the 21st Century. Many of us wear both hats, but we need to understand the difference so that we appropriately flex within and between the two roles.

Has your boss or supervisor ever said any of this to you—I am your manager; I am managing you; or I manage ten people? What did it make you think? How did this make you feel?

In business school and graduate school, I learned that management is the act or skill of directing, controlling, handling, deciding, overseeing, etc. Not even one of these words fits in with anything I want another person doing to me or for me. How about you? I also learned that leadership is about influencing, developing, coaching, guiding, mentoring or supervising people. So we need to be leading people and managing all that other stuff. The distinction is real and it matters.

If the “experts” in the field keep getting this wrong how can we expect mid-level managers and executives to get this right? The perpetual lack of understanding with these concepts is holding people back in their careers, and it is negatively impacting organizational success.

There are people who are great leaders but horrible managers, and there are people who are great managers and horrible leaders. How can this be? Because these two competencies require different skillsets. Too often hiring managers want to hire someone to lead but they focus the entire job analysis and interview on management and vice versa.

If you want to hire a manager, define the competencies for that role based on what management is all about. If you want to hire a leader, define the competencies for that role based on what leadership is all about. If you want to hire someone who will be competent in both, be sure to outline what that looks like then create an appropriate position description and ask the right questions during the interview.

Management is typically reflected via one’s title, but leadership isn’t.

One can hold the title of manager and never actually have staff or employees under his direction because he is (shall I say it again) “managing” a program, a budget, a project or an enterprise that he actually has control over and needs to direct, handle and oversee effectively.

Management happens with one or more decision makers for a particular unit/department/division/organization where there exists a “thing” to be managed, controlled, handled, directed or overseen. The unit/department/division/organization has a budget, program, service, contract or process (a thing) to be managed. However, the people within the respective section need to be (and I assert they prefer to be) led.

To be a leader one needs others whom he can influence or impact in some way (some people call these followers). It is not a requirement that these people be under his direct span of control in the normal supervisory lines, but they must be within his circle of influence. Leaders can—and do—lead down, across and up. We lead (influence) subordinates, colleagues, team members and even our superiors. This is why we now understand that leadership can and does happen at every level within an organization.

Leadership is about helping ordinary people get extraordinary results. It is about developing critical thinking, problem solving and process improvement skills in others and giving them the opportunity to apply these skills and have input on decisions. Leaders are charged to ask the questions that compel others (at every level) to consider choices, actually think and then provide recommendations to others.

Leadership is not about titles. It is not about seniority. It is not about status, and it is not about management. Leadership is about power and the ability to know when and how to use it to influence the people around you to do and become more! Transformational leadership is about using your actions to elevate others and put them on their path to greatness.

You can be a leader and never actually formally supervise employees, and you can be a manager and never actually have formal authority over a staff or team. It is important to note, however, that one’s position title is not a reflection of whether he is capable of doing either (leading or managing) very well.

The wrap up: Manage things and lead people.

Manage things, even manage yourself, but when it comes to other people, we prefer words like lead, supervise, coach, guide, mentor, etc. It keeps the perspective away from trying to handle, oversee, direct or worse—control—other individuals. That would not be appropriate (except in extreme circumstances—safety, etc.).

I educate students, facilitate workshops for professionals at all levels and provide consulting and executive coaching, and one thing I have been pushing against for 20 years is this notion that we would ever actually be able to effectively “manage” anyone. Individual people have their own minds, and they get to make their own choices. We can try to influence and shape those choices and behaviors through leadership, but it is not appropriate to attempt to direct and control them—this is what management is supposed to be doing with “things.”

The whole notion of an ever-increasing knowledge workforce where people are being hired and paid to think strategically, align themselves with organizational missions and then deliver meaningful outcomes for internal and external stakeholders is predicated on the idea (and hopefully practice) of really having leaders develop other leaders and pull from the talent all around them (above, across and beneath their own positions of authority).

Remember when you attempt to “manage” other people, you are in effect limiting or removing their choices—their power. And when you do this, you end up losing everything (all the experience, education, training and brilliance that you hired them for in the first place). Manage the things you need to manage, but lead the people you are supposed to lead.

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