Managing or Leading?


This is a post I originally wrote for the LeadChange Blog. For some reason I’ve had this discussion several times this week and I thought it was worth another look!

If you’re doing it for your business, it’s managing. If you’re doing it for your people, it’s leading.

We would be hard pressed today to find many people complaining about being “over-led.” We would not however have to look very far to discover groups of people feeling as if they are “over-managed” on a daily basis. It seems amazing to me that after decades of discussion about the difference between managing and leading most companies today remain over-managed and under-led.

Much has been written regarding the differences between managing and leading. There is still an ever-shrinking minority that would say there is no difference, that it is just all semantics. Most successful people however, followers and leaders alike, would say that without a doubt there is indeed a difference.

What is the difference? Let’s begin by explaining what leadership is not. It is not about a great personality or striking charisma. While a great personality and a bit of charisma can certainly help a leader’s cause, they are not absolute requirements for a leader. Leadership is also not a replacement for management. Both leadership and management are essential for success and that is even truer in difficult business environments. Finally, leadership is not a set of intangible skills that are hard to describe. Leadership skills are every bit as tangible as those of the most successful managers.

Managing is about coping with the current. Good managers use processes and control systems to make certain things “run” as designed. Managers follow the plan.

Leadership is about creating the “should-be.” The should-be comes straight out of vision casting and an insatiable desire to be better. Great leaders know that good enough never really is and they know that without a doubt; good is the certain enemy of great. Leaders develop the plan.

Managing is about helping good people do well. Managers “assign” tasks to achieve planned for results. Managers spend time with their people to ensure the tasks are accomplished. Managers organize their people according to the task in the hope that they succeed.

Leadership is about helping good people become great. Leaders “delegate” tasks to help their people grow. Leaders invest time with their people to enable them to excel and surpass the requirements of the task. Leaders align their people according to their strengths to ensure that they succeed.Well-managed people and organizations can survive in tough times. Well-led people and organizations can thrive in tough times. Good organizations have people that excel as managers and people that excel as leaders. Great organizations have people that excel as managers and leaders.

True success as a leader is only possible when we realize that what makes us a good manager will not make us a great leader. The most successful people have developed themselves in both areas.

Have you?

7 thoughts on “Managing or Leading?

  1. After a while, this felt like a Who’s On First skit. Leader vs. Manager. My head was spinning. ;-p

    There’s very few people I’ve met that can manage and lead. Their “magic sauce” is high emotional intelligence. They can weave in and out of the manager and leader roles with ease. It’s a beautiful thing to see.

  2. Time to time I think and try so hard to be a better coach while also be a manager which not so easy at all! Now I should question myself, am I a great (good) leader yet for my team or..?? The same question that I ask about my manager. Great post, Steve!

  3. Why is it essential that the good qualities of management and the good qualities of leadership be found in the same person? I would argue that the balance you might find when you partner a good leader with a good manager might easily give you more than the sum of the parts.

    1. There is a economy of action and thinking that is nearly priceless when both skill sets are found in one individual. It’s a great example of 1 + 1 equaling way more than 2!

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