Leadership vs. Management – is there really a difference?
Throughout my career I have heard many business people say that leadership is just an advanced form of management. It is not. Leadership and management are distinct concepts but the terms are often used interchangeably. The confusion is the most apparent in small and mid-sized businesses where the same person may be expected to perform in both capacities leader and manager – either because they were hired as such or they were promoted from within.(very common occurrence in family run businesses)
There is a profound difference between true management and actual leadership – the distinction is crucial. Because both roles are very important, it is valuable to look at the differences:
- “To manage” means “to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct.”
- “To lead”, on the other hand, is “influencing, guiding in direction, course, action and opinion while rallying people to a better future around a strategic vision.”
Successful businesses have BOTH leadership AND management in order to grow, maintain high level performance and challenge their competition. Companies require leadership to ensure a strong understanding of vision and companies need management to ensure the day-to-day things are happening as they should. In the worst case scenario, organizations destined to fail are over-managed and under-led.
It has been said that leadership is not what you do; it is what others do in response to you. In other words, you can’t be a leader without having followers and those people follow by their own choice. Leaders are committed to their vision and that can be very contagious. They have the confidence to take risks, explore and exploit opportunities as they come up.
If one watches children playing in a school yard it becomes apparent, very quickly, who may be the ‘natural’ leaders in the group. These children tend to be self-confident, assertive, social and bold – a predisposition to lead – before self-reflection and developed thinking skills are learned and developed. It is also possible to unlearn leadership skills and styles and develop those that are more appropriate for a chosen business and industry.
True leaders stand out by being different. They question assumption and are suspicious of tradition. They have a preference for innovation. They continually review progress, adjust and adapt while rallying the team. A leader may be a founder or a new arrival. Newly hired leaders bring bold, fresh, new ideas – even when specific industry experience is not part of the package. A tongue in cheek saying is that “leaders are visionaries with a poorly developed sense of fear and no concept of the odds against them”.
What does a team expect from their leader?
- Capacity to create a compelling vision while maintaining a focus on the horizon
- Ability to clear and concisely describe the vision, strategy, course of direction and what will be the anticipated outcome(s)
- Align the right people in the right roles to guarantee success
- Charismatic, personable with strong communication skills that enroll, motivate, inspire and empower the team on the journey forward
- Follow their own intuition, develop fresh ideas and spearhead new directions that are more beneficial and/or profitable for the company
- Create a bond of trust and serve as a role model displaying honesty and integrity through their principles and values
- Share information, encourage ownership and are not afraid of being challenged
- Support the team to be all they can by making sure they understand their role in the bigger picture
- Dedicated to building communities inside and outside of the organization
- Keep themselves updated on the latest trends, continue to learn and develop their skill set
While inspiring others to be their best, a leader will set the tempo and the pace for the team.
The management layer in a business often consists of people who are deeply experienced in their field. Sometimes they are promoted from within and other times managers are brought in from outside the company for their objectivity and developed expertise. An outside hire can add a fresh set of eyes that avoids a potentially myopic point of view, helps prevent perceived favoritism and often leads change that may be long overdue.
The manager’s role is to learn and understand how each layer of the system works. In many cases the manager may possess good technical knowledge that helps establish realistic and appropriate targets. The manager uses their yardsticks to analyze, appraise and interpret performance.
The best managers are people focused. They understand the importance of looking after their people, understanding their needs, listening to them and involving them in the business. Managers have a position of authority vested in them by the company and expect their staff will largely do as directed. Good managers get business done through their people; either out of respect for the manager or an appreciation of the hierarchy.
What does a team expect from their manager?
- Adept at executing the vision in a very systemic way and directing employees on how to do so
- Develop a roadmap and manage an accompanying budget that is in line with the goals of senior management
- Avoid chaos with the ability to see all of the intricate moving parts and understand how to make them harmonize
- Create an organizational structure and begin staffing it with qualified people
- Clearly define and communicate the objectives set by the leader
- Direct people and resources according to principles or values that have been established
- Resolve and help overcome problems the team encounters and decide how to deal with the complexity
- Ensure performance is monitored and measured, and each member is successful in their role
- Create a team through the delegation of tasks, coaching and developing each team member to bring out their best talents
- In turbulent times, enures the organization has the capacity to survive any kind of failure and maintain its structural strength
- Manage and monitor results by way of reports and meetings required by executives
- Stand up and speak up when relevant, required or they believe there is a better way
- Establish work rules, processes, standards, operating procedures and oversee day-to-day operational issues
In the startup community, we often see a new entrepreneur required to function as both leader and manager while building their business. In most cases there is really no choice. Unless there are partners willing to or talented enough to perform in each capacity, young companies have limited resources. Until a business is financially viable or there is a definite need, separate roles are often not possible.
Deep down, a lot of entrepreneurs are leaders – not managers. It’s true that some managers can inspire and some leaders can systemically execute, but generally speaking, a core strength is one or the other. To be truly effective in both disciplines and cultivate all the necessary skills, an individual needs to be committed to both, willing to invest considerable effort and look for outside coaching or mentoring. Management is extremely time consuming and time is not a commodity available to all entrepreneurs.
Good managers implement policies, organize details and ensure compliance. Leaders challenge rules, ‘cast’ their vision and define purpose. A manager rules. A leader is followed. A manager thinks incrementally. A leader thinks radically. A manager is focused. A leader creates shared focus. History tells us Churchill was a great leader and an awful manager.
Startup companies may experience some challenges when the founder is required to play both roles. Examples are:
- Leaders are much more apt to tolerate under performers because they’re thinking and may have time lines that suggest ‘a body’ is better than an empty seat. This is where the leader stumbles as a manager.
- When a leader gets bogged down with day-to-day tasks, focused putting out fires, problem solving and dealing with reactive tasks, a leadership void is present. There is not enough time to lead and followers have nowhere to turn for inspiration.
It is a very rare individual that excels as both leader and manager. Leadership does require certain natural talents. To surmise that anyone can learn to be a great leader is inaccurate and unhelpful. The same can be said for great managers. Obviously, most people can improve their performance as either a leader or a manager through practice, experience, and training. But to consistently excel in either capacity, does require a mixed bag of core talents.
There will always be good and bad leaders just like will be good and bad managers. The ability to effectively balance in both domains is one of the trickiest acts for most startup entrepreneurs. The best of both worlds would be a manager that carries some leadership traits and a leader that (to some degree) has developed some management skills. This way an effective vision and good strategy can exist along with efficiently and masterfully well executed activities.
Management and leadership are not necessarily mutually exclusive. They are, however, quite different. Leadership entails inspiration and steers an organization. Management is focused on overseeing, delegating and coaching.
For those interested in reading more about ‘the learning’ of leadership, you may enjoy this article. 7 Reasons You Can’t Learn Leadership on Your Own