What are the Distinctions between Leading and Managing?

There have been literally hundreds of articles written about the distinctions between being a LEADER and being a MANAGER. My intention in weighing in on this discussion is to dispel the myth that one is better than the other AND that the need for BOTH skill sets is ever present….more now than ever before.

There may have been a time years ago when the need for a ‘manager’ or a ‘leader’ could be clearly separated. For example, years ago in the traditional manufacturing world, the shift manager did not have to worry him/herself with inspiring his hourly workers. His or her job was to simply execute the tasks he/she was told to do and to get the right people in place to get the job done. The overarching metric was efficiency: delivering timely and quality output.

Yet, in today’s arena, the shift has been to the ‘knowledge worker’. Individuals have specialties. People need and want to understand how their unique work is tied to something greater than themselves. They need and want to be tied to a greater vision and purpose. And their managers are not only being held responsible for ‘getting the job done’; they are expected to grow their people. They are expected to nurture, teach, develop, and inspire….aka: LEAD their people.

As Peter Drucker (the late management guru who laid so many cornerstones in the world of leadership/management in business so aptly said (I paraphrase): as we move into the ‘new age of business’, we do not just ‘manage’ people. We must lead people and help each individual leverage and optimize their strengths to the greater good of the organization. And, as Jim Collins offered in his best-selling book: Good to Great, we must ‘get the right people in the right seats on the bus’. Net: we need ‘different horses for different courses’. It is not a question of managing versus leading; we must do BOTH.

In my coaching experience, I have been continually amazed by senior level executives who are ‘stuck in the rut’ of strictly managing. They may have been given the title of ‘leader’ yet, their behaviors resemble anything but leading. Their organizations suffer from poor morale, lack of a strong, unified culture, and in many cases, the health of the organization is in severe danger and the long-term sustainability of the organization is in extreme jeopardy. This is due in most cases due to ineffective or non-existent leadership – at all levels within the organization – not just at the top.

In an effort to give our readers the distinctions of leadership versus management ‘at a glance’, I have highlighted a few clearly distinguishable traits.

Leaders focus on people. Managers focus on tasks.

Leaders inspire and focus on transformational actions. Manager ‘tell’ folks what to do and focus on transactional actions.

Leaders are comfortable taking calculated risks and stretch goals. Managers seek conservative comfort and ‘lay down’ goals.

Leaders foster followers. Managers instruct subordinates.

Leaders create visions and long-term horizons. Managers define short-term goals.

Leaders model behaviors. Managers tell.

Leaders are generous with giving credit. Managers are stingy and take credit.

Leaders focus on doing what is right. Managers focus on being right.

Leaders develop people. Managers maintain people.

Leaders create. Managers imitate.

Leaders shape cultures. Managers adhere to culture.

Leaders chart a new direction. Managers maintain the status quo.

Leaders facilitate and collaborate decisions. Managers make decisions.

Leaders are design architects. Managers are brick builders.

Leaders exhibit persuasive power. Managers lean on positional power.

For those interested in taking a deeper dive relative to leaders versus managers, there was an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review

Yet, the net is this: we need BOTH leaders and managers in the world today. Individuals can and should embrace traits and skills of BOTH leadership and management. There is a time and a place for BOTH leading and managing. Leadership CAN be learned. And one is not ‘better’ than the other. The key is to honestly observe and your situation, trust your intuition and embrace the appropriate approach needed.