What’s The Difference Between Leadership vs. Management?

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What’s the difference between leadership vs. management?

Imagine you’ve got a patch of woods that’s brambles, thorns, trees, and brush. You need to move yourself and your group through the woods safely and quickly.

The Leader is the person in front, hacking away at the foliage, making the trail for others to follow.

The Manager is the person who ensures everyone else is moving along safely on the trail and at the correct pace. The Manager is often at the back of the group, helping stragglers keep up.

You cannot do both at the same time.

If you’re leading, it’s counterproductive to go back down the trail and manage. At smaller organizations, you may have to fulfill both roles, but every minute you’re managing is a minute you’re not moving forward, not carving out new trails for your organization to explore.

If you’re managing, it’s irresponsible to forsake your charges, wander off, and attempt to lead. You cannot lead from behind, and every minute you’re up front is a minute that your team isn’t benefitting from your support. They’re stumbling over vines, hungry, thirsty, and laggards falling so far back that they eventually get lost.

Leadership and management are equally important. You need both to succeed; neither is better or worse.

The most common stumbling block is personality. Some people are better leaders than managers. Some people are better managers than leaders.

Know who you are, then work in the role that best suits you.

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7 responses to “What’s The Difference Between Leadership vs. Management?”

  1.  Avatar

    Great post and a distinction I often make with people as well. I haven’t used this analogy before, but I may co-opt it. One point I’d like to add (and maybe you meant it, though I don’t want to assume) is that I think one can do both leading and managing, but one can’t do them at the same time. As in, in one role/job/function/on a project, you might manage it. On the next, you may lead. One can still have the capacity and ability for both, but not the bandwidth to execute both simultaneously.

  2.  Avatar

    Does this imply that by being a filmmaker, and producing, directing, writing and in next season’s 168 Project film, starring as well, that I’m too distracted? Interesting take on the process.

  3. It’s easy to get into both the leading and management roles in a small company. Good advice to keep the distinction present in your company and recognize it.

  4. susan borst Avatar
    susan borst

    Good perspective, thanks, Christopher. What do you think about the notion of the Peter Principle whereby great managers, who by nature may not be great leaders, are faulted for not trying to be “leaders”?

  5. Every general needs good captains to run the army (maintaining the Warrior reference from your link).

    However, the question becomes; who is most effective at being the voice of the group? Leaders far enough afield lose touch, even if the group remains on-track. Managers, in their work, have trouble finding opportunity to speak out to people not in the group, as they’re the ones with work to do.

    So, question; is quiet excellence better in either case than audible mediocrity?

  6. Hi Christopher.
    While I agree with you that one cannot lead and manage at the same time, I still believe that knowing both skills is necessary.
    As you rightly mention, leadership and management do not require the same skills and have different focus areas.
    Still, to be successful it is important to be able to be flexible between these two skills. Once cannot be a leader without checking that he’s followed, and one cannot be just a manager churning the day to day maintenance work.
    Already today, and more beyond the Fourth Revolution, successful people will know how to play with the two skills and alternatively apply them

  7. Kory McDow Avatar
    Kory McDow

    I love this analogy. It puts a nice frame around roles and responsibilities. It does, however, lead me to a question.

    Would you say the same thing applies for team leadership? I believe that if you are an effective team leader (and want to remain that way), you have to be able to do both.

    Using your analogy, if you are blazing the trail, but don’t check on the rest of your team to ensure they are still with you, you’ve lost them and now have the opportunity to be a leader…of yourself. If you are too focused on managing the team, then you will never step up and lead the way forward.

    I think it is possible to do both well. We’ve seen good examples of it not only in the sports world, but in the business and social worlds as well.

    Again, thanks for the analogy. It has already sparked several discussions with friends and family.

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