The Real Difference Between Management and Leadership

February 20, 2012 11 Comments

Michael Scott, Dunder Mifflin Middle ManagerThe following is an excerpt from One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership (you can get your copy here).  This post focuses on the difference between management and leadership.  I would love to hear your thoughts on how the two are different so please share your ideas in the comments at the end of the post.

You are a leader. Management and leadership are not the same thing. The difference is simple: you manage things; you lead people. Admiral Grace Murray Hopper coined this elegant, clear distinction. Yet there is still a lot of confusion on this point.

Management is task-focused. It is short term. It is a series of checklists and to do’s that ensure the work gets done. It is taking actions to hit a budget number or deliver a project on time. Management is how we execute tasks to achieve a specific desired outcome. Said simply, it is the movement of personnel, materiel, and tasks with an exact set of measurable results in mind.

Managing things consumes a large portion of our time. It requires forms, reports, meetings, analyses, and documentation. If left unchecked, such tasks will consume every available moment in the day. Sometimes it seems all we do is work on tasks related to managing the organization. When that happens we can easily mistake management for leadership. The logic underpinning that confusion goes like this:

Fact 1: We are leaders.

Fact 2: Leadership is the most important thing we do.

Fact 3: Because we are leaders we only spend our time on the most important things.

Fact 4: All our time is spent working on meetings, reports, forms, and analyses.

Conclusion: Meetings, reports, forms, and analyses must be leadership because if they are not, we are not spending our time on the most important things.

The flaws in that logic are obvious when those points are presented starkly in black and white. During the workday, however, it is difficult to differentiate between management and leadership because the world is moving at such a dizzying pace. If those things are not leadership, what is?

Leadership is people-focused. It is the words spoken and actions performed that inspire something deep within another person which leads that person to act independently to advance the interests of the team. Leadership is inspiring and influencing people to act in ways they ordinarily would not.

Inspiration is the key. Great leaders have a keen ability to inspire others to tap into their own pools of energy in a way that unleashes their innate potential. For someone to be properly inspired, the leader must help that individual see how special they are to those around them.

Leadership is demonstrating that you put others before yourself and that your primary interest is their best interest. Leading entails articulating a vision of something larger than the individuals involved, helping those involved understand their role in achieving it and inspiring them to take on seemingly insurmountable challenges because they believe in your vision to the core of their being. Leadership and management work hand in hand but truly are fundamentally different concepts.

- If you’re serious about doing less managing and more leading, grab yourself a copy of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. There are plenty of suggestions in there for how you can make leadership a much larger part of your job than management. CLICK HERE to get your copy.

- Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

11 Responses to “The Real Difference Between Management and Leadership”

  1. Allen says:

    I’ve been using this quote for about 10 years now.

    Lead and inspire people. Don’t try to manage and manipulate people. Inventories can be managed but people must be lead.
    Ross Perot

  2. Rosa Say says:

    I have a different view Mike, one I’ve cultivated over my years in management positions because I feel it elevates both managing and leading as positive verbs instead of putting them at odds with each other, as tends to happen with the old people versus process argument.

    The distinction I prefer is focused on energy as our greatest resource: When we harness human energy, we create all our other capital assets, like financing, innovation etc. Great managers cannot channel good energies they are unaware of, or energy which doesn’t exist.

    Whether you prefer to call yourself a manager or a leader, it’s a good thing, with positive connotations:

    LEADERSHIP is the workplace discipline of creating energy connected to a meaningful vision.

    MANAGEMENT is the workplace discipline of channeling that mission-critical energy into optimal production and usefulness.

    Workplace energy functions the same way batteries do for your favorite electronics: You can have the most high tech camera in the world, resplendent with amazing features, and it will do absolutely nothing if its battery is dead.

    I do appreciate your hosting this discussion, for while leadership gets most of the good press, management is crucial, and it’s exceptionally valuable and rewarding when treated as the calling it is.

  3. KimLeBas says:

    With Spacial Dynamics we look at the relationship of the body and the space around it to create the form we inspire to live into. Management and Leadership are the same. So create the dynamic you wish for and be inspired.

  4. Leadership is about creating relationships as the first and foremost activity (as well as vision, strategy and all those ‘in’ things).

    Management is about deliverables and within that there has to be effective leadership as well,as you have the people in your team be IN the team and deliver those deliverables.

    You do that through the relationships you build, day-in, day-out, without effort, just by this being the way you are.

    Simple (though heck, we spend a lot of time, money and energy on it!).


  5. Kirana says:

    When I was asked to take a consultant office who was not really turning in good work, and bring them to the level that the contract requires them to be (there were no consultants locally in this field in Asia who could already do the contract on the level we wanted) I had no idea how to do the leadership thing, especially as it involved a paradigm shift as well. So I did the only thing I could think of, I drew from my brief stint in the naval officers’ reserves and applied the traits I observed from those officers that I felt were good leaders. And to my relief, it worked.

    Even though I have felt it myself as a follower, I’m still amazed at how well people respond to a clear, consistent vision, the simple ability to trust someone in a leadership role, the comfort of knowing the person in front is credible, competent and values what you do, and this credible person believes that you can do it to the standard required even if it seems pretty impossible from here. It takes a while until people realise that they actually trust you, but then it takes off. The whole atmosphere has a charge to it, and the opposite situation has a whole ‘we’re doomed’ feeling instead.

    From a follower’s perspective, I can deal with some shortcomings in management, the team can compensate for some lack of management skills from the boss. But the team cannot compensate for a lack of leadership. Someone needs to be in charge of knowing where we’re all going. And you can’t do work if you’re constantly wondering if your boss might throw you under the bus to save his own performance review. If the boss can’t maintain the team dynamics and momentum, no amount of management is going to salvage it.

  6. Ralph says:

    Hi Mike,
    New here and a little late on this post. Good insight for sure. I write about similar topics coming for this world of leadership and management. Frankly, I have always maintained that both are about people. I get the fact that as a manager we have to complete tasks but it always comes back to people for me.

    Both leadership and management mean getting the best out of your team and focussing on the weak links to help find ways to make them better or move them along (whole other topic). My point is that both leadership and management is about being selfless and using your ability to elevate the individuals on your team. The rest, the management tools, are just that; tools to help focus on finding ways to make your team succeed.

    In my mind the most effective manager is invisible to the ongoing operation of his team. His/her job is to advocate for the team. That’s it.

  7. My view: Leadership is about Vision, strategy, change, people and other primarily qualitative states or conditions.

    Management is about ensuring that the actions and activities required for implementation of the Leadership qualities are, in fact, executed upon.

  8. Ihunenye violet says:

    Hi,mike.very sorry for replying late on this very interesting and educating topic. I must frankly say that leadership is the key to succes in an organisation.leadership is ones ability to influnece one cannot achive it’s organisational goal if it lacks the ability to influnce subordinates positively. While management is cocerned with coordination of effort and resources to achieve the set goal or target.will i say that managment is a pre requisite of leadership. The effort of sub ordinates cannot be highly harnessed if leadership is out of place.

    • faith says:

      To me leadership is the exerted influence over others to help a group or organization achieve performance goals. Management is working with others to achieve organizational goals.

  9. John Bonesio says:

    I think people are confusing management with the position title of Manager, which is very easy to do. In the position of Manager, a person could be a leader or they could be a manager.

    If the person in that position treats his people as units of production and directs with that attitude, he is a manager. No one is inspired to do great work. Instead, many of his workers will do the minimum so that they’re not fired.

    If a manager (by title) instead treats her workers as unique people with wants, needs, and hopes, and she understands that each person has unique strengths and motivations, this manager is most likely a leader. If this manager inspires her people to achieve more than they would on their own, she is definitely a leader.

    Many large companies like their middle managers to be managers and not leaders. These companies say they want greatness, but often in reality they want consistency, even if it’s consistently mediocre. They want to treat their people as interchangeable parts. They’re afraid that otherwise they’ll be held hostage to their talented employees.

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