Difference between Leadership and Management

Posted on September 6, 2010


Team Leadership, photo from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

There are distinct differences between leadership and management. Sometimes you are able to keep them separate, and sometimes you must act as both manager and leader. Here are the differences between leadership and management, as well as some tips on integrating the two.

Leadership and management are two different concepts and actions. In many organizations, leaders and managers are the same people. The difference is in how you, as a leader and manager, separate the tasks of the two realms – and try to find a way to integrate them at the same time. In general terms, leadership can be defined as setting a vision and providing a goal or direction. On the other hand, management is the execution of the vision or the goal. If you are a manager and leader, you must balance the two. If you lead with no management, you’ll provide direction with no concept of how to get to the ultimate result. But if you manage with no leadership, you’ll find people in your organization wondering why they’re doing what they’re doing. Granted, in some organizations, the senior or executive level management can truly lead, that is, set the direction, while middle or line managers execute. Let’s take a look at the true differences between management and leadership, and then find out how to integrate them.

One of the first big differences between leadership and management is the idea of change. A leader must initiate change – it’s the whole idea of setting a direction or new goals. As most organizations know, change is difficult and sometimes uncomfortable. The leader sets the change as a positive, explains why the change is being made, and sets out either to manage it or to allow a team of managers to do so. A manager, though, when faced with change, must adapt to the change and then maintain the status quo – until another change comes along. Management is the practice of adapting and then maintaining – not necessarily determining changes that need to occur.

Another difference between leadership and management is the person’s outlook on the organization. Leaders take a “bird’s eye view” or “50,000 foot” view of the organization and its situations. From this vantage point, a leader can look at the big picture – how is the organization functioning, what processes are linked to what areas, and what changes will make things more efficient and cost effective. A manager, although in tune with the big picture, must continue to look at the micro picture, what’s going on right in his or her area. This is not a short sighted view, but a view that can manage the nuts and bolts of the smaller unit.

Leaders and managers must take different views of processes and procedures, as well. A leader is concerned with overall processes. Remember, from the bird’s eye view, a leader can see which processes are effective and which ones are not. A shift in process may come from an overall leader, but the procedures or execution of the new process is a management function. The managers with the micro views can make changes to their procedures in order to carry a process through from its beginning to its end. Along the same lines, a leader may even define a desired result, leaving process changes to other managers. In this situation, a leader might say that the time it takes to complete “Process X” is too long – the desired result is a shorter timeframe. Managers must be concerned with the tools that will help them achieve the desired result – for example, a new piece of equipment may be needed to shorten the timeframe for Process X, and a manager must have the knowledge of the tools to make this recommendation.

Motivation and control are also two other differences between leadership and management. A leader should provide motivation – after all, the leader is setting new directions. He or she must be ready to motivate by explaining why changes are occurring and what the desired results will bring. Motivation should also come from “kudos” for jobs well done and for improvements – this also means that encouragement must be the motivation for underperformance. A manager may have to take control after a leadership motivation occurs. This doesn’t mean that a manager must be controlling or micromanage people or processes. It means that a manager must exercise a firm grip on the processes and ensure that people are getting their assigned tasks completed.

There are obviously numerous differences between leadership and management, and we’ve only discussed a few here. But what if you are, as managers are increasingly becoming, the manager and leader? How can you integrate and balance both sides of the leadership / management equation? Sometimes it’s a question of levels: you may have to initiate change and motivate, then turn right around and manage the processes and the tools. There may be an easier way to look at the integration of management and leadership. According to Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, managing less is a great way to simply be a leader and manager all rolled into one. When Welch originally looked at his managers, he felt that they were managing too closely, not giving employees enough latitude to make decisions on their own within a framework. He transitioned managers into “creating a vision” for employees and always making sure the vision was on target – if not, adjustments could be made from the management perspective.

The most common argument to Welch’s theory is that managers need to manage – they must be aware of what’s going on at all times. Welch’s advice: relax. Let people perform. Obviously if there’s an issue, you may have to put your manager’s hat back on and go down to the source of the issue. But by concentrating on the ultimate result and letting people get there, you’re inspiring confidence and motivation. You’re also allowing a new group of leaders to emerge.

Be aware of the differences between management and leadership. Use both wisely as an integrated way to inspire, but also to ensure that teams are on track.

Copyright 2008 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

Bryant Nielson – Managing Director and National Sales Trainer – assists executives, business owners, and top performing sales executives in taking the leap from the ordinary to extraordinary. Bryant is a trainer, business & leadership coach, and strategic planner for sales organizations. Bryant’s 27 year business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering.

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