by Andrea Charman

Leadership versus management

Managers maintain things, leaders change things.

The differences between leading and managing are not always clear, even though the foci of the two capacities are quite distinct. Management can be seen as task-orientated, and is primarily associated with getting the job done efficiently to the required standard and within the set parameters. Leadership, on the other hand, could be described as the capacity to engage people at an emotional level in such a way that they are at least willing and at best enthusiastic and passionate about putting their energy into the tasks that will achieve the vision of success. If effective management is fundamental to the success and effectiveness of an organisation, what sustains this is leadership.

In essence, effective management focuses on process and task; leadership focuses on vision and people.

The manager

  • Focuses on systems
  • Takes a shorter range view
  • Asks what and how and when
  • Relies on control
  • Has eye on bottom line
  • Is trained
  • Administers
  • Directs
  • Maintains
  • Is present orientated
  • Is task focused
  • Organises
  • Plans and co-ordinates

The leader

  • Focuses on people
  • Takes a longer range view
  • Asks why
  • Relies on engagement
  • Inspires trust
  • Learns
  • Does things right
  • Coaches
  • Challenges
  • Is future orientated
  • Is performance focused
  • Visions
  • Innovates and reframes

Leadership was what Noah used to get a huge boat built in the middle of a desert. Management was what he used to ensure the elephants did not see what the rabbits were up to on the voyage.

Points to consider

  1. Management can be taught, because it is rational and logical and therefore open to the application of rigorous analysis.
  2. Management is concerned with the optimal delivery of pre-stated objectives. It’s about predictability, so that the managed can learn from the examples and standards set by the manager.
  3. Management is about the containment of risk. Too little management can be a threat for a business.
  4. Management alone can stifle innovation and prevent change and therefore, finally, ossify a business.
  5. Management must be exercised in conjunction with a vision derived from a leader. A subject for reflection is this: are managers usually followers? A manager might have ultimate executive control within an organisation, but the path that is followed may have been set by a past leader. That said, ‘management’ and ‘followership’ should not be taken as pejorative terms.
  6. Plans and budgets are often the manager’s priorities, with a need to move people into position for implementation.
  7. Strategy, vision and longer-term thinking are the priorities of the leader, who must measure the distance, together with the hurdles, and inspire people towards vision realisation.
  8. A critical element of leadership is the need for a leader to embody or personify the vision. This is leadership from the top – leadership that encourages followers towards vision realisation.
  9. Leadership operates at a different pace and a different rhythm from management.
  10. Do leaders always put themselves on the line? Are they always risk takers?
  11. Business has generated many more managers than leaders because management is linear in a way that leadership is not. Career paths have historically been clearly established, with defined stages and a high degree of predictability – in short, risk-containing. Management development has focused on the acquisition of specialist knowledge and managers are usually experts in their chosen field.

It is often argued that large institutions need fewer leaders than managers and that an organisation entirely comprised of leaders would be one without a cohesive structure. While this may be true, organisations have become expert in the development of managers, but still remain amateurish in the development of leaders.

Management and leadership are very different, but the value we place on leadership is such that the term management seems to have increasingly acquired a negative sense in contrast. There are many outstandingly able individuals who are either running major corporations, or at least at the front of them, who would baulk at the term manager rather than leader, even when their skills are clearly aligned to those of management.

Key point

Linear and lateral thinking are both critical to a successful enterprise. As a result, management and leadership need to complement one another.

While it may be right to value leadership, this should not be at the expense of recognising the importance of good management. Although it is critical to be clear about the difference between management attributes and leadership qualities, most research shows that is not a question of either/or today, but a question of and/both.