The Difference Between Managing and Leading 

I haven’t written on this topic in a while but a couple of recent conversations have provoked me into taking another stab at it. One of the conversations was particularly troublesome. A talent acquisition manager for a medical device company told me one of their main criteria when hiring was “ease of management.” I asked for clarification on exactly what that meant and they told me “someone who is easy to manage. 

I smiled and said good luck with that; you’ll never find a human being who is easy to manage. 

And that’s a fact. Human beings will always resist being managed. Sometimes the resistance is subconscious and sometimes it’s conscious. Sometimes it’s downright rebellious. Most of the issues managers would call personnel issues stem from the fact that they are trying to manage their people like a piece of equipment instead of leading them like a human being.

Managing and leading are two distinct concepts. They are different mindsets. The skills associated with managing are not the same skills associated with leading. Although managing and leading are often used interchangeably nothing is further from the truth. In general, managing involves overseeing and controlling the day-to-day operations of an organization or a team. We manage stuff, not people. Leading involves inspiring and guiding people to achieve a common goal. We do not lead stuff, we lead people. 

Here are a few of the most significant differences between managing and leading.

Focus. Managing typically involves a focus on maintaining and improving the status quo. Leading is focused on inspiring and creating change.

Execution. Managing involves implementing plans and policies that have already been established. Leading involves developing new strategies and ideas to move the organization forward.

Control. Managing is often about controlling resources and processes to achieve specific outcomes. Leading is more about empowering people and encouraging them to take ownership of their work.

Communication. Managing tends to involve more direct, specific communication about tasks and deadlines. Leading involves more open, collaborative communication that fosters innovation and creativity.

Vision. Leading is often associated with creating and communicating a vision for the future. Managing is focused on executing plans that are already in place.

Managing and leading are both important for the success of an organization. But they require different skill sets and approaches. A good manager is able to efficiently control resources and processes to achieve specific outcomes. A true leader is able to inspire and motivate people to work towards a common goal.

One person can possess both skill sets. Authentic leaders often have both great management skills and terrific leadership skills. They understand the difference and they never manage when they should be leading. And they never hire people they think will be easy to manage. They know that when they lead effectively, everyone is easy to lead.

Want more of LeadToday? I’ve changed things up on my Twitter feed for subscribers. I recently began publishing two or three videos each week focusing on an element of Authentic Leadership. I’ll post these videos each Tuesday and Thursday morning. Sometimes a bonus video pops up at other times during the week. They will be about 10 minutes long so we can get into the topic in a more meaningful way. The investment for subscribers in still only $4.99 a month. That’s for at least 80 MINUTES of quality video content on leadership a month.

If you’re interested in taking a look, head on over to my Twitter profile page. If you’re not a follower yet just hit the follow button. It will change to a subscribe button and once you hit that you’re on your way. You can cancel at any time you’ve decided you have nothing left to learn about leading the people who you count on for your success.

Here’s the link to my Twitter…

One thought on “The Difference Between Managing and Leading 

  1. I have to remind myself constantly that I cannot be both efficient and effective when it comes to the people I’m charged with leading. Time pressures and even ego often make me want to employ efficiency. In the long run, it’s a losing proposition.

    And it’s not just with my subordinates. It’s also with my boss. I can try to force him into a course of action, using up significant trust capital. Or I can take the time to lay out the issues, several courses of action, as well as pros and cons. This takes time. I may have to lay off for a while and come back another day, when the idea has matured.

    My subordinates often want me to take the pressure route with my boss. My boss sometimes wants me to take a heavy hand with the troops. In the short term, I can be subject to a fair amount of criticism for not doing so with either constituency. In the long run, it works so much better.

    There’s so much more to be said on this topic.

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