Leadership vs. Management: What’s the Difference


“True leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders,” or so says a bit of wisdom from non-fiction author J. Sakiya Sandifer.  Businesses often need many managers, but you do not need to be a manager to be a leader.  What’s the difference–leadership vs management? 

More importantly, how can you adopt the qualities you seek of one or both? 

Management Defined

It’s easy to define management: the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.  Managers can handle the task at hand– they can get the job done, or get others to get it done.  They are often in their managerial position because they can do the job and handle the people doing a job.  They may be the best at a particular job, or at least have greater tenure.

Unfortunately, in some organizations the manager cannot do the actual job, only directs other people.  The manager may not have “earned” the position, but instead has status based on some other history or quality.  In those cases, businesses have discord and contention: no one likes working for someone they do not feel can competently manage the things or the people. 

But a good manager could step in and handle a situation in another’s absence, and may have even risen through the ranks and excelled at a job.  Managers often:

  • Make decisions
  • Give orders
  • Set goals and targets
  • Follow legal guidelines
  • Implement programs or changes

A good manager also understands the role of statistics in management, and makes decisions according to statistics, facts, best practices and with consideration for the best outcome for all involved.  Poor managers make decisions based on emotion or are inconsiderate of the needs and emotions of others; they desire obedience and compliance, regardless of understanding or buy-in.

Even with all of the desirable qualities in a manager, a manager is not necessarily a leader.

Leadership Defined

Leadership is tougher to define.  When you look up the definition of leadership it’s “the act of leading.” Define leader and it’s, “one who leads.”  To really understand leadership or a leader, then, you must understand what it means to lead.

Leading is not managing.

When one leads a horse by the reins, one is causing the movement but the horse is doing the moving.  The helmsman of a ship leads the ship, even if others are at the oars.  Leaders cause things to happen.

To truly be a leader, one must connect other people with a purpose and a mission, which helps drive them toward the accomplishment of a goal.  Whether the goal is paving a road or putting on a play, the leader helps everyone connect the moving parts, inspiring them toward the accomplishment of their own goals, their own piece of the game.

Managers must be expert at a job and handling things, but leaders are experts at inspiring action.  Managers may provide orders, but leaders empower their people; like the opening quote–they make people into leaders themselves.

With that inherent power comes increased scrutiny as well. A difficult manager might annoy employees, or even cause them to change jobs.  A lack of leadership will make a business collapse.

Manage and Lead

The most effective employees are future leaders, no matter their company status: they are connected to the mission of the business and inspire others.  Ideally, managers are also effective leaders, and they empower while they inspire, so that each employee feels heard, encouraged, and supported.

It is possible to manage the day-to-day while inspiring toward a better future, and that’s the crossroads between managing and leading.  Find that sweet spot, and you too will make more leaders.

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