The difference between management and leadership

Most executives these days are appointed into leadership positions by virtue of their technical skills, knowledge and education.  Seldom are people chosen to become leaders of an organisation because of their sheer leadership qualities and abilities.  In most organisations, ‘Leaders’ are in fact ‘Managers’ working under a leadership title.  Many people in management believe that they can become leaders in their organisation or field of expertise because they know so much about the business, their extensive experience in the field, superior technical knowledge and excellent process management skills.  This is often not the case.  

People use the terms “management” and “leadership” interchangeably. This is the most subtle misidentification and misapplication of the notion of leadership. Unfortunately, most people don’t see the real vital difference between the two and the essential functions that each role plays.

Leader is definitely very different to manager. The key role of a manager is to administer and manage things. Managers need to focus on efficiency and on achieving targets in a way that makes the best use of all resources. Good managers have the ability to organize workers, not just to maximize efficiency, but to cultivate skills, nurture talent and generate results. Managers are concerned with day-to-day routine operations. Leadership, by contrast, is about influencing people to achieve a vision. Leaders need to be concerned with the big picture and the vision of an organization. 

The differences can be elaborated as:

  • Leaders create and articulate vision and strategy, management ensures it is put into practice through planning and budgeting
  • Leaders welcome change and opportunity, while managers focus on dealing with complexity
  • Leaders embrace accountability and transparency internally and externally, while managers focus on the doing and the achieving of budget and plans
  • Leaders excel at public relations, being open in their communications, sharing of information and articulation of the organisational vision, while management refers to these communications for guidance
  • Leaders recognize risk as opportunity, while managers ensure risks are understood and controlled

Leaders have a vision, and the skills to achieve that vision. They have ability to take their organizations into the future, recognizing opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and skillfully taking advantage of those opportunities. True leaders are people who know where they are going and invite others to come along.

To become an extraordinary leader, an executive must become a conscious leader by combining both executive management skills and conscious leadership abilities.  Executive management skills are necessary to win credibility with the staff as a leader and with the board of governance as an executive. In this framework, executive management is not about managing the people to get things done in the business, but is more to do with taking vision and strategy to the staff. It is about managing what things get done through which people.