The “father of modern management,” Mr. Peter Drucker described the difference between leadership and management like this: Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things. In a world that is always changing with individuals and institutions constantly moving in new directions, the role of leaders and managers is more important than ever. Yet, there is often confusion about the difference between a leader and a manager. Yes, leaders can be managers and managers can be leaders, but that’s not always true.
Many studies reveal that people today generally feel like organizations are being over-managed and that true leadership is often missing. Understanding leadership vs management is a fine line, but necessary to ensure the next generation is prepared with the practical expertise to do things right as well as the traits to do the right things.
Let’s dig deep into the meaning behind each title to understand the difference between leadership and management.
What is Management?
Management is the process of directing or controlling people or things. A manager, then, is the person responsible for this process. It’s a manager’s job to use available resources, including human resources, to meet an organization’s or a department’s goals.
Organizations are often over-managed. Micromanagement and over-controlling styles embodied by important business figures, such as Elon Musk, are making people feel like the business world needs higher standards for management. Enter the role of leadership.
What is Leadership?
So how can you recognize leadership vs management? Well, leadership is also a process, but it’s a process of influence and persuasion vs control and direction. Leadership is part art and part science and can be learned and improved.
To what end? The goal of leadership is to inspire and guide a group of people to a common goal. And that guidance can come from anyone. It does not have to be a manager. In fact, 83% of organizations think it’s important to develop leaders at every level. Let’s look a bit deeper into leadership vs management so the difference becomes apparent.
Leadership is About Setting Direction
All great leaders have one thing in common: they inspire. Leaders are responsible for setting an organization’s direction, pressing for change, and building a long-lasting and empowering culture. They accomplish this by inspiring belief in a shared vision.
As John P. Kotter explains, great leaders ignite people’s hearts and minds towards a better future. Leadership is about how to direct a following towards a common cause and keep people moving in the right direction throughout the journey. Leaders entice people to dream, hope, and be optimistic about the future that is to come.
Great leaders don’t stop at aligning people towards a compelling vision. They also develop the strategies that will create the changes required for that vision to be achieved. And they follow through on guiding the implementation of those strategies and providing course correction when it’s necessary. When the shared vision becomes a reality for all involved, the leader has done her job.
Management is About Structure and Resources
While leaders press for change, great managers are savvy when it comes to planning and stability. Managers are responsible for establishing an organization’s structure and monitoring the progress that’s being made towards reaching common goals.
Unlike leaders, managers’ focus rests upon the company’s budgeting and profitability. Managers are responsible for problem-solving strategies while journeying towards the leaders’ vision. It’s important to highlight that a manager’s objectives are generally predetermined by leaders.
When it comes to making operational decisions and optimizing team efficiency, managers are the ones taking the reins. Making smart organizational decisions on hiring, onboarding, and financing, to name a few, rest in management’s expertise and experience.
Managers are responsible for supervising, analyzing, and measuring the results of an organization or department’s efforts. They return and report to leaders with their findings. When change is required, managers make sure it happens.
Leadership Focuses on the ‘Whole’
A key difference to consider when looking at leadership vs management is that leaders have a more holistic view. Because leaders set the direction for their organization or movement, they must appeal to their people’s inner motivations and emotions through inspiring messages. This means they need to think and speak BIG picture instead of getting bogged down by the day-to-day tasks that make a business function.
Leaders don’t necessarily make plans, organize people, or monitor outcomes. What they do, however, is inspire people to perform to their natural best every step of the way, along the journey towards their vision.
Take Sir Richard Branson, for instance. He’s built huge empires in the air travel, mobile, and recording industries. Today, he leads more than 200 companies and is one of the world’s most admired business leaders of our time.
Is Richard Branson a Great Leader or a Great Manager?
You could argue that he’s both, but he’s undoubtedly a skillful leader. No manager would single-handedly have the time to direct Branson’s portfolio of more than 200 companies. Managing involves becoming actively engaged in a business’ operational efficiency, analysis of progress, staffing, and structuring. It would be far too great of a workload for Branson to take on so many companies in terms of management capacity.
However, Branson does carry the epithet of the leader of the Virgin Group. Why? Simply put, Branson established the vision and guiding direction for his family of companies. He pressed for change within the many industries his businesses operate within to break the status quo, innovate en masse, and build a multimillion-dollar empire.
Branson inspires people to dream and hope for a more exciting future. He inspires his people while setting the direction for a vision of the future with a unique talent and capacity that very few leaders can articulate.
While he probably manages plenty of his companies, he definitely leads all of them.
Management Focuses on the ‘Individual’
While leaders focus their attention on the whole, managers place a higher emphasis on the individual. Leaders set the direction of their company and aim for a universal vision. Managers, on the other hand, focus on how that vision can be accomplished most effectively and efficiently by coordinating individual team members with specific roles to perform their functions as part of a larger operation.
In the words of inspirational TED speaker Simon Sinek, leaders focus on the why while managers emphasize the how.
For this to be accomplished, managers ought to take care of the people they control. To consistently unlock the best in people and create an uplifting environment, managers must understand the natural gifts of their people. This is, by far, the most important role of a manager.
John P. Kotter and other great management thinkers would agree that discovering people’s innate, and sometimes, hidden talents and turning those talents into performance is what sets great managers apart. That’s because skillful managers are enchanted with individuality itself. They seek it, admire it, and celebrate it.
That’s the beauty of management. When done right, it puts people’s talent to work in a way that benefits both the individual and the organization.
Above All, Unlike Management, Leadership is a Choice
The most important difference between leadership and management is that leadership, unlike management, is a choice. Leadership doesn’t depend on someone’s position, title, or place in the organizational hierarchy. Instead, leadership is founded upon an individual’s desire to serve others.
To manage generally requires certain prestige and authority. In any organization, it’s very unlikely that you might find yourself managing people when you don’t have the authority, title, or prestige to do so.
Remember your first work internship? You probably weren’t given the chance to manage people!
One often has to climb their way towards having management authority within an organization. Why? Because management generally requires operational knowledge, industry expertise, and having a proven track record of having both a goal and people-oriented mindset – qualities that generally take time to develop.
A leader, as Brene Brown describes it, a leader “is anyone who takes responsibility for recognizing the potential in people and ideas, and has the courage to develop that potential.”
Leadership is about showing up for people and inspiring growth, regardless of what position you’re in or how much power you hold.
Management Tips to Build Better Teams:
- Create Psychological Safety: This is the sense of security that a person won’t be punished for making a mistake. If your team doesn’t feel psychologically safe, it’s time to change things and prioritize the freedom to take risks and share ideas.
- Build Your Team: Make sure people are coming to work not only for the company but also for each other. Like in sports, teams will never succeed unless they have each other’s backs.
- Abandon The Rules: Rules create resentment and frustration. Instead, focus on values such as empathy, trust, belonging, and respect.
- Spend Time With Your Team: Know what they like and dislike and their spouses and children’s names. Understand their backgrounds and their triggers. People’s talents and gifts are not always easily visible. You have to get to know them.
- Have Tough Conversations: Listen intently and take constructive criticism when it comes your way. Provide feedback and set expectations when someone you manage isn’t doing their part.
Leadership Tips to Grow the Leader Inside You:
- Develop Soft Skills: Leadership is largely about emotional intelligence, empathy, self-confidence, communication, and many of the other soft skills needed to inspire a shared vision.
- Articulate a Clear Vision: People have to be able to imagine the vision they are pursuing.
- Engage With People In Shared Meaning: Inspire action through a sense of understanding.
- Provide Direction and Intent: Empower others to discover the best route possible.
- Nurture and Develop Future Leaders: If your organization or vision depends solely on you, you are failing as a leader. Keep the vision alive by passing the torch to the next generation of leaders.
In this sometimes messy and ever-changing world, the real challenge for businesses is to find the perfect balance, not only between leadership and management but also between results and values.
Your desire to achieve results should never compromise your values. It is quite the contrary. An organizations’ values should always be the north star guiding its results. In other words, you have to do the right thing to do things right.
At Topic Insights, we know that there’s a leader inside each and every one of us. It’s our mission to help you nurture and inspire that leader. For more content like this delivered straight to your inbox every Monday morning, subscribe to our newsletter. Questions? We’d love to hear from you. Contact us today.