When Leadership is Lacking

Some of you will find this post lacking. You’ll find it off the mark because you believe that management and leadership are one in the same. You are convinced they are two words that describe the identical characteristics and skills. 


Before I write this next sentence I should remind you that I was a long time member of the Dale Carnegie organization. I believe in and try to practice the principles set forth in the all time great book written by Mr. Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” 


One of the principles says to never tell a person they are wrong. That is the principle I’m going to violate in this next sentence. I’m going to violate it because this is so important that I want to say it as directly as I can. So here we go…


If you believe that management and leadership are identical then you are wrong. You’re about as wrong as wrong can be. 


Let’s be clear, all organizations need both management and leadership. The same person can and frequently does possess both skill sets. But many times, they do not. When they don’t it is usually the leadership skills that are missing. 


When leadership is lacking in any organization then managing fills the gap. That creates a multitude of issues within the organization because human beings resist being managed. They insist on being led.


We manage things, things like budgets, buildings, inventories, etc. Things don’t care if you are ethical. Things don’t know if you say one thing and do another. Things don’t know if your’re abusing them or not. Things don’t get hurt feelings when you use or trust one of them more than the other. Things don’t care if you care for them or not. Things don’t get emotional…ever. 


Human beings have been known to be emotional. A leader interacts with another human being’s life. When you are involved with another person’s life and have any level of influence on it then that person wants to know if you care for them. They insist that you are ethical and fair. They need to feel trusted. They need to know they matter. They need to be recognized for their efforts. 


Showing you care, ethical behavior, trust building integrity, showing people they matter, and providing consistent recognition are all leadership characteristics. 


When you apply management principles to situations where you should be showing leadership characteristics you often make the situation worse. Thats why it is so important to understand the difference between managing and leading. Too many people in leadership positions lack leadership skills. Often they are not even aware of it. They unknowingly fill that gap by trying to manage people. 


Research shows that between 70 and 80 percent of people in leadership positions have fewer than 5 hours of formal leadership training. Many have absolutely none. Companies that wouldn’t think of allowing their people to do “things” without training regularly put people in charge of their greatest asset (people) with no training at all. 


That’s crazy when you think about it. But it seems that many organizations don’t think about it. 

Leaders who lead people instead of managing them eliminate most “people issues” before they begin. Don’t make the all too common mistake of thinking that management and leadership are interchangeable words. They are vastly different skill sets and so are the results that people will provide their organization when they are led instead of managed. 

47 thoughts on “When Leadership is Lacking

  1. So true! I am about to finish my time as an Air Force squadron commander next year and this article is absolutely correct. I experienced everything that was written here. Thank you for the great read!

  2. A great article that illustrates much of the truth that I have experienced over the past forty-six years in the PA profession. Let us hope for an increase in real leaders with hearts on fire for their professions.

    1. Thank you, we indeed have a shortage of leaders today. Step one to correct that is to acknowledge the difference in the skills required to manage and the skills required to lead.

  3. Good article, thank you! I wholeheartedly agree with you on this, Steve. I had a lengthy debate on this about six months ago in a “leadership” class where the facilitator didn’t believe there was a difference. Sigh…

    1. Thanks Kari, that’s pretty scary when the person facilitating the class doesn’t understand the difference but it speaks to the work that people who do understand have to do. Job security? 🙂 Happy New Year!

    1. Thanks Damian, I’ll definitely check out your blog and hey, I think it’s perfectly okay to be a little self-promotional. After all, if we don’t think we’re worth promoting who will. Happy New Year!

  4. I found the origin of the expression “all the tea in China.”

    This phrase originated around the late 19th/early 20th century and derives from the fact that China was well-known to produce tea in huge quantities. That is still the case and China now accounts for around a quarter of the world’s production of tea. So, to decline the offer to do something ‘for all the tea in China’ is to be determined not to do it, whatever inducement is offered. (Phrases.org.uk)

  5. Reblogged this on CapoVerso: New Leader and commented:
    Leadership e Management non sono la stessa cosa. Quando si è manager ma manca la leadership all’inizio sembra che nessuno si accorga della differenza. Ma la differenza è fondamentale e prima o poi emergerà. Chi gestisce le persone che guida come fossero oggetti, situazioni contingenti o problemi astratti entro breve non verrà più riconosciuto dai suoi uomini come leader.
    E’ vero, apparentemente, sembra la cosa più facile da fare: oggetti, situazioni o problemi non si interessano se tu ti stai comportando in modo etico, se dici una cosa e ne fai un’altra; se li sfrutti oppure no; se li danneggi oppure no; se ti preoccupi o meno di loro; se ti fidi di loro oppure no; non provano emozioni, sentimenti.

    Guidare esseri umani è diverso. E se ti illudi che gestendo oggetti, situazioni e problemi dietro non ci siano esseri umani che provano sentimenti ed emozioni rischi di pagarla cara. Un leader interagisce con la vita di un altro essere umano. Quando sei coinvolto nella vita di un’altra persona e hai un livello di influenza su di essa, allora quella persona vuole sapere se ti stai interessando a lui. Per lei è fondamentale che tu sei etico e giusto. Ha bisogno di sentirsi riconosciuto, di godere della tua fiducia. Ha bisogno di sapere che conta, che è importante e che il suo impegno viene sempre riconosciuto.

    Quando manca la leadership in qualsiasi organizzazione, la gestione apparentemente può colmare il vuoto. Ma questa soluzione crea una moltitudine di problemi all’interno dell’organizzazione perché gli esseri umani non vogliono essere soltanto gestiti.

  6. Dear Steve, unfortunately, I have nothing profound to add! I just want to say I love how you nailed a complex distinction with a concise and thoughtful post that elegantly distinguishes these two verbs. Many thanks.

  7. Excellent article and information Steve! I tell people all the time that the best courses I ever attended was the Dale Carnegie Leadership Training and Public Speaking Courses and I think all management and leadership roles should attend this training. Keep my Golden Book and Little Recognized Secret of Success books on my desk!

  8. Excellent article. Steve you gave just helped me to accomplish my daily goal which is to learn something new. Your words will definitely help me to enhance my leadership skills. God Bless.

  9. Leadership and management are defined and operationalized in very different ways depending on ones frame of reference. Interestingly, those who know management as an academic discipline treat leadership as a subfield of management or a function of management along with such functions as decision making, strategy, organization communication, ethics, employee motivation, and organization change. More importantly, I would contend that most of us who have taught management-related courses feel a professional responsibility to teach the ethical dimensions of all the management functions. Ethical behavior in the work environment should be a concern of everyone in an organization from the CEO to the custodians. In addition, while I share Mr. Keating’s preference for a more caring leadership style, or what is commonly described as a people-oriented leader, research shows that the most effective leadership style depends on the situation. Sometimes, task-oriented leadership is most effective, and other times even an autocratic leader can be the best fit for an organization. Case in point, while Bobby Bowden succeeded in college football as a very caring leader, Nick Saban has thrived as a task- and process-oriented leader, Ultimately, the study of leadership has generated a gigantic body of research, including mountains of research on caring, people-oriented leaders. I would encourage anyone reading this comment to jump head-first into ABI Inform or Business Source Premier as data bases connecting you to all of the research you could ever imagine on leadership.
    J. Norman Baldwin, Ph.D. Emeritus Professor
    The University of Alabama

    1. Thank you so much for the comment and info on the data bases. I absolutely concur that leadership is situational, I would also contend that Coach Saban, which a process-oriented leader, demonstrated a consistent caring for his athletes. He wanted them to succeed on two levels, one for the team, one for them individually. He knows, as all Authentic leaders do, that his success is completely dependent upon the success on the people he leads. I’ve also found that leaders who proactively demonstrate a more caring nature seem to have a better record of developing more leaders… do you agree? I just saw new research that showed a 36% percent increase between 2012 and 2016 of CEO’s being forced out of their positions due to an ethical lapse of one type or another. I don’t think that bodes well for the future of leadership. How do you think that trend can be reversed? I’m thinking I would have loved being in a class of yours, I have so much to learn about leadership and you sound like a person who has a great deal to teach.

      1. Thank you for your kind words. Yes, I agree, some recent research, in fact, does support the significance of caring as a leader. As far as your concerns about ethical leadership, I believe we may be backsliding for the moment, but, ultimately, I think social progress continues and we will trend back to having even more highly ethical leaders.

  10. May I use your Leadership, Management graphic above work my Leaving Certificate (High School equivalent) Business class please? Of course I’ll credit you as the source. If you wish you can get an idea of the work we do at egs.ie/business

    Thank you


  11. This article was my introduction to you and your website. I agree with what you said; certainly the characteristics and qualities you listed as “leadership” are necessary if people will willingly follow you and work for you. I have a little trouble picturing in concrete terms what the opposite looks like. Would you mind providing an example of management without leadership and the consequences that followed?

    1. Hi Peter, thanks for your comment and question. The examples of the consequences of attempting to manage people abound. The first is low morale. People comply with the demands of a manager, they commit to undertake the requests of a leader. Employee turnover is much higher among managed people. The culture of an organization with managed people is one of doing as little as possible, but the culture of an organization with people who are led is one of doing whatever it takes to succeed. People who are managed will have an attitude that causes them to look for problems, people who are led have an attitude that drives them to find solutions. I could go on and on but I think you get the idea.

  12. Steve, love the post and its relevance to current social and professional leadership trends. Young people today correlate leadership and management too often and then become frustrated when they have issues with people or completing tasks!

  13. Hi Steve,

    We recently were assigned a new boss and we all love him.

    It’s because he came in not trying to change us but to improve or manage systems.

    What I notice most about him is how he listens and trust we know our profession.

    He leads by example which is something I’m not used to.

    We can all tell he’s just a good person who relates well with people.

    Thanks for the insight.

    1. Sounds like your boss is a leader! A true leader is pretty easy to spot and you describe a leader perfectly. You are lucky to have a boss who truly leads!

  14. Excellent article! I could not agree more.
    We should manage processes but lead people. When you genuinely care for the people in your organization and you engage them directly, honestly and sincerely you will inspire them and gain their commitment rather than their compliance.
    Nice work, thank you.

  15. Hello Steve,
    I enjoyed your article greatly! I’m a huge follower of Greenleaf’s tenants of servant leadership. A true leader seeks to serve those who follow him/her. May I quote some of this article for a work presentation? I work for WA State Department of Children, Youth, and Families; I’ll be addressing a group of leaders on the topic of “leader vs manager.” And of course, I’ll cite this article as a reference.
    Thank you!

  16. This is so true. I see it every day.
    Thanks for this beautiful article. I’m glad I came across it.

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