What is the difference between leadership and management?
Our language continues to focus on both leadership and management, yet the distinctions aren’t always that clear. The difference between leadership and management too often seems to focus on the different activities that have as their centre of gravity one or the other. A quick word association points this out. Say the word “leadership” and you get – inspire, motivate, engage, strategy, vision, involved, insightful. Say the word “management” and you get – operations, projects, budgets, plans, resources, performance, targets. I’m sure you could continue on this line with your own additions. What the activities exercise doesn’t capture is a single succinct difference or “distinction” between the two. Creating that distinction might lead us to exploring, then articulating a purpose for each that sets them apart.
The difference between leadership and management
- Leadership is about creating a future that does not yet exist.
- Management is about generating and implementing the plans, initiatives, projects budgets and resources that will get us to that future.
Within this distinction, we capture for the leader, the act, individually or collectively of conceptualising, communicating and engaging a particular population in a future that is ahead of them. This applies to issues however small or grand. From getting a colleague into a more motivated space to changing the business model for an entire enterprise. To do that often requires a continual scanning process to see what is coming in terms of trends, scenarios, developments and another of forming these insights into something that can be further shaped and driven through the process of management. Whether this is done individually or collectively is often the product of style or context. For the manager, we can see that once direction is set via a vision, strategy or general directive, it is our job to make it happen, taking it from idea to reality, whether that be a coaching conversation with our colleague or a plan for implementing an entire new system to support a new business model.
The question then comes, “Is it possible to do both simultaneously?”. The answer is a resounding “Yes”. Not only is it possible but it is the way it is in most cases, especially in business. That brings up another distinction which is “business leadership”, which by definition implies a blend of leadership and management in the same person and role. Why, then you ask, would it be useful to make the distinction between leadership vs management in the first place? My answer would be that good distinctions are powerful tools, allowing us for a moment in time to separate, examine and learn things that are inherently different but blended into the same human being. As one moves up in scope, scale and impact, one moves toward more of a balance on the leadership side and less on the management side. However, and this is pretty critical, all management roles, no matter how junior, have aspects of leadership to be called on. In the same vane, especially in business, all leadership roles, however senior, have a management aspect to them. Through making the distinctions we can focus our development under these two hats, invariably worn by the same individual.