Managing Stuff, Leading People

Generally speaking, people get promoted because they did something good. Salespeople get promoted to Sales Manager because they were good at selling. A marketing associate gets promoted to Marketing Manager because they had proven themselves to be good marketers. An engineer might get promoted to manager because they designed stuff that worked well and was marketable.

All three of those individuals were promoted to leadership positions and none of them were promoted because they were skilled leaders. Now, they may be good leaders…or they may not, only time will tell.

Here’s a reality of leadership: the vast majority of people are promoted into leadership positions without having demonstrated even a slight ability to actually lead. Many are promoted into leadership positions because they have demonstrated some ability to manage but leading and managing are two entirely different things.

You manage stuff like budgets, inventories and buildings but you lead people. The skill sets are different and more importantly the mindsets are different, in fact, they are completely different. Some people can master both skill sets but that’s less common than many people think.

The biggest mistake a person newly promoted to a leadership position can make is to believe that just because they were good at selling, or marketing or even because they were good at managing, is that they are automatically good at leading.

The saddest thing is that even people who have occupied leadership positions for years still sometimes believe that.

Your position or title doesn’t make you a leader. Even being a good manager doesn’t make you a leader. Running a business, effectively managing every detail, and making money at it, doesn’t make you a leader.

Only leading makes you a leader.

Leading requires that you fully understand the value of people. Leading requires that you understand the unique ability of every individual you would lead. Leading requires that you actually care for those individuals.

This is kind of an aside but here’s one way to determine if you’re talking to a manager or a leader: When you’re talking to a manager you get the feeling that they are important; when you’re talking to a leader you get the feeling that you are important. That “feeling” makes all the difference in the world.

Leading requires that you have the vision required to see the consequences of the consequences of the consequences of every decision you make. It can sometimes seem as if a good leader can see into the future but the truth is, they don’t see the future, they create it.

Let’s be clear, I am not minimizing the importance of good management in any organization. Good management is essential to the stability of every kind of business but management does just that, it keeps things as they are, stable. 

Leadership is not about stability, it is about growth. Leadership is about change for the better. While managers can fall into the trap of believing that strong management can improve a business, leaders know that nothing improves without something changing and they drive that change.

Many more businesses fail due to lack of leadership than fail due to poor management. Think about it, do you really think that businesses like Montgomery Wards, Blockbuster Video, Circuit City, Howard Johnson’s and Borders Books, (to name just a few) suddenly lost the ability to manage their business? 

They didn’t lack sound management, they lacked the vision that a true leader brings to an organization. They lacked the ability to rally their people to a cause. Their people couldn’t commit to the leadership because they couldn’t find any leadership.

I could write forever on the differences between managing and leading but for now I’ll just say this: the first step to understanding the difference between managing and leading is to understand that THERE IS A DIFFERENCE. The difference is not just semantics, the differences are real, concrete and definable. 

Once you understand that basic fact then and only then to you have a chance to truly lead.

33 thoughts on “Managing Stuff, Leading People

  1. This is absolutely correct. I was promoted to managing a breeding barn on a hog farm because of my skill at crunching numbers. Some of us learn to lead people after we get the promotion and some of us don’t.

  2. Steve, another fantastic example of your unique perspective. As a Chief of Police, I continue to apply many of your principles to my profession. A profession that is, in fact, a business. Keep up the great work!

  3. I enjoyed reading your thoughts and agree with your premise. I am always cautious with a black and white comparison between “Managers” and “Leaders.” Not all managers prove to be good leaders, but all leaders should be good managers. Your premise is that leadership (influence and courage) should be one of the core competencies of management. I agree. Again, Steve, thank you for the good article.

  4. As a new manager (and hopefully, leader), whose department is going through some difficult growing pains and significant changes (for the better), I feel the timing of your article was perfect – and the message spot-on.
    Thank you!

    1. Thanks Leslie, as “they” say, timing is everything. Good luck in your new role, you have a head start on many, you already understand the difference between managing and leading! Have a great Thanksgiving!

  5. Steve,
    Thanks for the the good article. I fully agree on your approach on the existing difference and the need to understand the difference. I would like to add self-reflection as a competence to be able to achieve the understanding.

  6. Thanks for the insights. Lead-er-Ship is a three part en-devour. Their is the SHIP, which is what Ship are we on, family, work, community etc… The good news is that regardless of what Ship you are on, the same principles apply. We can choose to to lead the ship to its destination by Serving or by Power, that is the S and P in Ship. At the end of the day the P is really about People. Without the people the Ship cannot move in the right direction, meaning we need everyone to be rowing. The LEAD is about Listening, Learning, Encouraging, Ethics, Accountability, Adjusting, Decisions, Developing. And finally the ER, if we Serve the People and apply the LEAD we can then say that we have Earned the Right to Lead the Ship. All the best to everyone. Hector Ray @

  7. Very Nice and precise article which tells the TRUE difference between Leader and Manager.Great thought ….

  8. Reblogged this on Shubha Apte and commented:
    This is an absolute fact. In fact , while helping my client on some of their quality initiatives, I come across very high potential individuals. They are excellent managers but not leaders. They lack the skills to influence and collaborate with their teams and stakeholders.

    1. Absolutely, the ability to influence and collaborate are two essential qualities of a leader. Without them it is very very difficult to lead. I agree with your comment completely.

  9. Love your perspective, very well said. I’m in the golf industry and we’re craving leadership in a world of managers. It’s about relationships and tyng in the game.

    1. Thanks Todd, I do lots of work in the golf industry as well. Trying to manage out of too few rounds, lower profits and too many courses just won’t get it done. The industry truly does need more leadership!

  10. Exactly. No longer are the days managers “manage”, but rather “coach” people to reach higher levels of performance otherwise not reached without a person in that position.

  11. Steve, I really enjoyed this article. Such sound points. All great leaders know the importance of putting their team and their team’s goals and needs before their own. Managers who are not leaders, are very quick to throw their employees under the bus. I believe the GFC is a great example of the catastrophe a lack of leadership can cause.

    1. Thanks Lauren, another mark of a great leader is their understanding that their own success is completely dependent upon the success of their people. It’s pretty tough for your people to help you succeed after you’ve thrown them under that bus.
      It’s hard for me the imagine the arrogance of someone in a leadership position who believes that success has come solely from their own effort. Then again, I don’t need to imagine it, I see it all too often.

  12. I am taking HR classes and learning that leadership and management are not the same. Your article is very helpful in understanding the difference.

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