Leadership vs management… what’s the difference? If you Google it you’ll find a host of articles painting “management” as the shadowy underbelly of leadership done poorly and putting “leadership” on a worship-worthy pedestal. Is “leadership” the Dr. Jekyll to “management’s” Mr. Hyde? Or are these comparisons unfair?
If you buy into leadership vs management as a light vs dark paradigm, you’re actually dooming yourself to one-sided results. Instead, I suggest looking at leadership and management as Yin and Yang, two halves of a whole. To achieve true business mastery, one must be well versed in both leadership and management. So where do they differ?
Management leads with the head, leadership leads with the heart
Management lives in the domain of the IQ and is made up of hard skills. These skills can be taught and understood on an intellectual level. Preparing a budget, setting up metrics and KPIs, building and reading reports, and setting S.M.A.R.T. goals are management skills. To create a strong manager, these skills need to be trained.
Leadership, however, is all about EQ and soft skills. Great leaders connect deeply, listen compassionately, communicate patiently, and inspire with humility, integrity, and vulnerability. For some people these things come naturally and for other they don’t. To become a stronger leader, one must transform, not just learn.
Management is quantitative, leadership is people focused
Management normally takes place in an office, across a desk, over a spreadsheet, and with a whiteboard in close proximity. Management’s topics of discussion are the quantifiable parts of business: revenue, expense, ratings, goals. Management’s main goal is business growth.
Leadership happens anywhere; in the office or outside. It can take place over dinner, or side-by-side at a coffee shop or bar. Leadership’s topics of conversation are personal, emotional, flexible, and even intimate. Leadership’s main goal is connection.
Peter Drucker’s definition of leadership vs management
One of Peter Drucker’s most famous quotes is, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” I love this quote’s simple poetry. My similar thought is less poetic, but I would offer that: Management is about getting the right things from people, while leadership is about doing the right things for people.
The ‘why’, the ‘what’, and the ‘how’
If you are a good manager, it’s because of “what” you do. If you are a good leader, it’s because of “how” you show up. Regardless of whether you are focused on managing or leading, it’s critical for you to explain the “why” of any project to your team.
The source of leadership vs management
Management generally stems from an organization’s hierarchy. People higher on the org chart are responsible for managing those teams lower on the org chart. Managers leverage authority to get results.
Leadership can come from anywhere in the organization. Leaders motivate results through influence and inspiration, regardless of whether they have authority or not.
Leadership’s law of attraction
If there is any area where leadership is more important than management, it’s in recruiting and retention. Leaders who create deep, genuine connection with their team members engender significant loyalty. It’s this type of loyalty that can lead to a leader’s best people following them from company to company. This type of relationship is less likely to show up because a manager has excellent hard skills and trains their team well.
Conversely, the old adage that, “People don’t leave companies, they leave bosses,” is entirely true. Managers who do not develop enough leadership skill may find that despite their technical excellence they suffer from higher turnover than stronger leaders who form deeper relationships with their teams.
Leadership vs management: What are the similarities?
The similarities between management and leadership are often mistaken as differences. For instance, I’ve seen charts that say management is tactical and short-term while leadership is strategic and long-term. Or those that say leaders lead from the front, while managers lead from the back, or management is static while leadership is dynamic, or that management delegates while leadership teaches.
These explanations are incorrect; in each of the prior dichotomies, management and leadership can be on both ends of the spectrum. Tactics, strategy, teaching style and delegation all have their places in both management and leadership.
Is one more important than the other?
Yes and no. The best business outcomes will only be possible when the senior team is skilled in both management and leadership, but that doesn’t mean that some level of success can’t be reached by those only strong in one or the other. Keep this hierarchy in mind when hiring a team leader (ordered from best results to worst):
- Strong skills in both leadership and management
- Strong skills in leadership; weak skills in management
- Weak skills in leadership; strong skills in management
- Weak skills in both leadership and management
How can management and leadership skill be developed?
Management skill is easier to develop than leadership skill. Since management consists of hard skills, trainings focused on these skills grow the management skillset. You can send a high potential manager to Excel, goal setting, or performance management classes and they’ll come home with a stronger management skillset.
Leadership can be a bit tougher to develop, as personal transformation is necessary to grow leadership capabilities. Experiential learning is key for transformation. A growth-minded, aspiring leader could hire a coach, join an organization like Vistage or EO, or enroll in personal growth seminars like Landmark or Insight Seminars. The key to leadership transformation is to be in environments that challenge you to look deep into yourself and support you as you evolve through the blocks that hold you back.
The best possible business results will come when your team leaders are skilled in both management and leadership. They will have the technical expertise to put structure around their assignments and will have the soft skills to inspire their team members to give their best. They’ll be able to teach their teams skills to enhance their productivity and be able to support them as they deal with the ups and downs of life on the job. It’s only when management skill is balanced with leadership skill that a structured yet engaged work environment can exist.