Management or Leadership: What’s the Difference?

We often use management and leadership interchangeably. We also assume that leaders are people in organizations who have certain positions or job titles. I believe that management and leadership are different, and we can describe the difference. I also believe that leadership can be found in employees at all organizational levels.

Management – Managers ensure compliance. Successful managers must know the rules, policies, and procedures, and make sure that others comply with them. Those whom we believe to be good managers are able to “keep order.” Employees who report to “good managers” are usually on time, take the prescribed lunch break, know what is expected of them and deliver, etc.

Leadership – Leaders inspire commitment. Successful leaders must know the people they would hope to inspire. This makes leadership an action word because successful leaders must do something that inspires others to commit their best to an activity or endeavor. Sometimes, the person would not have been willing or able to make the commitment without such inspiration.

Others often inspire us quite unintentionally and without ever knowing that they did. All they did was “be themselves,” and what we observed in them or heard about them inspires us to emulate them. This is usually because we see benefit or value for ourselves in achieving whatever success we believe they have achieved. Following are three ways this inspiration can occur:

Position Leadership – We are inspired because of the position they hold. We want to do those things that are most likely to help us achieve the same or a similar position.

Expert Leadership – We are inspired because they are so good at what they do. We want to develop the same or similar levels of expertise as we believe they have.

Personal Leadership – We are inspired because they are the kind of person we think we would like to become. We want to emulate their behavior.

The Management-Leadership Balance – The fact that management and leadership are different does not mean that management is somehow subordinate to leadership. However, I believe that the more leadership we have, especially in organizations, the less management we need. This is primarily because people who are inspired to commit their best in their employer’s service tend to comply with the rules voluntarily. The challenge then becomes one of making sure the rules are articulated clearly and that employees know what compliance means in behavioral terms. Despite the leader’s best efforts, some employees will respond more “positively” to a manager’s insistence on compliance. This suggests that, in most cases, both leadership and management are necessary, yet neither is sufficient.

Leadership Development Investments – Not everyone who holds or aspires to attain a so-called leadership position has a “heart” for leadership. They may know about leadership but not be willing to do what leaders must do habitually (and hopefully, comfortably) to inspire others. Therefore, the focus of leadership development needs to be on identifying those who have a “heart” for leadership and teach them the skills they need to have in order to be good at doing leadership. This will minimize the likelihood of investing leadership development resources in those who would rather be doing something else. Wise investments will pay significant dividends over a long period of time, sometimes for the duration of the employee’s career and beyond. Invest wisely.

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