Managing, Leading, What’s in a name?

Look, I'm going to Lead, you go manage.

Look, I’m going to Lead, you go ahead and manage.

There is often discussion in organisations around the need to help managers become leaders or how best to move from management to leadership. Certainly most managers think it’s much sexier to be a leader than a manager. And as a consultant I’m pretty sure you can charge more for leadership development than management training.

While most people have a fairly standard description of management  which is broadly “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people”, there are innumerable descriptions of  leadership.  However an   example of 33 ways to define leadership   notes that the general sentiments are that “leaders are people who know how to achieve goals and inspire people along the way”.   The big difference seems to be the inspirational part.

The language we use creates the impression that we consider management a mundane practice focused on getting people to do tasks while leadership is seen as a more heroic task of getting people to commit to some higher purpose. So are they very different and is one better than the other?

A recent Harvard Business Review article  “Do Managers and Leaders Really do Different Things?”  unpacks the differences between the two more eloquently than I ever could (it’s worth a read) and concludes with this:

“The majority of the activities [performed by managers and leaders] described were very similar, or even identical — delegating, learning, motivating, and so on. I’d suggest that they aren’t that different in terms of how they actually play out in organizations. Certain behaviours and activities are common to the effective demonstration of both leadership and management. The crucial difference – maybe the only difference — is the focus of the person carrying them out. Focus more on people and you’ll demonstrate leadership, more on results and you’ll perform management; but what you’re actually doing may not be that different.”

I found it really interesting that management is about doing and leadership is more about being, about what you focus your attention on? And if this is so, can one “teach” leadership?

I certainly think it’s possible to support managers as they review their approach and attitude in order to shift along the management / leadership scale. But more importantly I think many organisations actually (and unintentionally) create managers by their organisational culture.

And similarly  I  believe that organisations can create environments more conducive to growing leaders, if they  actively develop a  culture which values people as humans rather than resources, if they build trust and accountability with courageous conversations, and if they let go of the  minutia of task management and focus on broader outcomes than just profit.

And yes, full disclosure, I work with  organisations on all of that. If you’ve faced this dilemma I’d love your comments.

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