The Difference Between Managing and Leading

My last post focused on the scourge of micromanaging. In it I noted that there was significant differences between managing and leading. I received a comment from a reader, Michaël Ben-Yosseph that was very kind and had nice things to say about the post. He also suggested that in my next post I discuss not just that there is a difference between managing and leading but exactly what those differences are. 

 

Well, this is my next post. So here we go! 

 

First I would say that the difference is as large as the difference between night and day. We manage stuff and we lead people. Perhaps the biggest single difference is that stuff, budgets, inventories, buildings, etc. don’t have feelings. That alone makes managing a whole lot easier than leading, at least to me.

 

People, at least the ones I know, most definitely have feelings. For many of those people those feelings are easily hurt. 

 

That’s why it’s vital for a leader to care about their people. You can care about people without leading them but you simply cannot lead them without caring for them. An attitude of genuine caring will shape every other interaction and communication you have with your people. So will a care less attitude. If you do not possess a genuine caring nature you will struggle as a leader. 

 

Managing is very much about today. It’s a one day at a time kinda thing. Leadership is of course about today but it’s also about tomorrow, the next day, the next week and the next years. That’s why leading requires vision and managing requires tenacity. 

 

Managing is a very specific business, it’s the art of steering the ship on a well-defined course. Managing requires facts, data, and objectives. Leadership is the art of turning the unlikely, and at times the impossible, into tangible, reachable, realistic objectives. Organizations seldom manage their way to success. Organizational success requires leadership. 

 

Managing is an inside job. Managers utilize their internal resources to make things happen and achieve the goals of the organization. Leaders understand the outside as well as the inside. This provides them with the insights required to see their entire business environment and anticipate needed changes as well as understand potential opportunities. 

 

Leaders influence while managers direct. It’s really not always that black and white but it’s almost always that black and white. While leaders focus on what will matter, and on why it will matter, managers tend to focus on how it will matter. 

 

Said another way, leaders decide what to do and managers decide how to do it. Unless of course the leader is also a micromanager and then all bets are off. 

 

Leaders are really the heart of an organization. They inspire, coach, vision cast, create and nurture the organizational culture. They keep the organization moving forward through communication and motivation. No organization succeeds without solid leadership. 

 

No offense to leaders but managers are more like the brains of the organization. They make the rules, set up policies, programs, etc. Managers are about business, not people. No offense to managers but they usually see people as just another tool or asset they can use to get the task completed. No organization succeeds without diligent management. 

 

Frequently the skill sets and the more important mindset of managers and leaders are so different that it’s challenging for one person to possess both. But “things” tend to work better when managers have a heart and a whole lot better when leaders have a brain.


It’s not that one person can’t be both a good manager and great leader, it’s just that it requires effort and dedication that sadly, too many managers and leaders appear unwilling to make. 


What Makes a Leader

Calling yourself a leader does not make you a leader. Holding a position of leadership in your organization does not make you a leader. Having an important sounding title does not make you a leader. Having someone else describe you as a leader does not make you a leader.

Your promotion to a leadership position does not make you a leader, in fact the managerial skills that likely earned you the promotion are very likely holding you back as a leader.

If you’re trying to manage your people then you will always have people problems. Human beings do not respond to being managed. Actually leading your people will permanently eliminate most of the “people problems” managers face everyday. 

So, here are a handful of traits that contribute to being a leader:

Risking your success being hidden inside the success of someone else makes you a leader. 

Caring as much about the advancement of those around you as you care about your own advancement makes you a leader.

Tackling the assignments no one else will tackle makes you a leader. 

Investing your time where it’s needed rather than where you want to makes you a leader. 

Making right decisions that most people simply won’t makes you a leader.

Finding common ground where only mud previously existed makes you a leader.

Seeing the potential within every person you meet makes you a leader. 

Doing what’s right when everyone around you believes it’s wrong makes you a leader.

Working to build more leaders rather than more followers makes you a leader.

Understanding that your own success is dependent upon the success of your people makes you a leader.

Having the courage to let the best idea win, whether it’s yours or someone else’s makes you a leader.

Understanding that constant collaborative communication with your people will help them succeed makes you a leader.

A willingness to be held accountable, by anyone and everyone makes you a leader.

Being completely honest with yourself makes you a leader.

These are some of the traits that make a leader. To be sure there are more. Few leaders possess every recognized leadership characteristic but they possess more than people who do not lead.

The right to truly lead must be earned. It can’t be earned through what you say, it is earned through what you do. Leader “wannabes” tend to talk leadership, Authentic Leaders tend to do leadership. 

Are you just talking or are you doing? 

Enduring Leadership

Enduring leadership is a characteristic of a great leader. Truly great leaders, what leadership gurus would call a Pinnacle Level or Level Five leader leave behind their leadership when they are done leading.

They leave it behind in the form of leaders they have helped build. That’s why you can’t truly declare someone a Pinnacle Level leader until they are at or near the end of their leadership career. 

You see, good leaders are judged by what they do; great leaders are judged by what gets done when they are not leading anymore. A truly great leader’s leadership outlasts them.

If you lead any kind of organization and nothing of you or your leadership remains when you leave the building for the last time then your leadership was of the common variety. Pinnacle or Level Five leaders are not at all common, in fact they are the most uncommon leaders of all.

They have not only built a solid follower-ship, they have built outstanding leaders who will carry forth their legacy and very likely build more leaders of their own. It is not a coincidence that Pinnacle Level leaders have almost all been led at some point in their career by another Pinnacle Level leader. 

If your ultimate leadership goal is to become a Pinnacle Level leader then you’re likely to fall short of your goal. Achieving recognition as a top level leader is seldom the goal of a Pinnacle Level leader, their goal is to make a difference in the life of their organization and the lives of the people they lead within it. 

Achieving Pinnacle or Level Five Leadership Status is merely a byproduct of their commitment to their people. 

Motives matter when it comes to leadership. You don’t build more leaders to reach the Pinnacle Level of leadership, you reach the Pinnacle Level of leadership by building more leaders.

Uncommon Leadership

I’ve had the opportunity to spend several days recently with a person recently promoted to a leadership position. He was very good at what he did and earned his promotion. His promotion came with a new title and higher income, unfortunately what it didn’t come with was any hint of how to actually lead. So he doesn’t lead, he just tries to get by managing his new team.

I’ve seen the same scenario play out literally hundreds of times through the years. A person is good at what they do so they are promoted into a leadership role even through they have little, or more commonly, no leadership experience or skills at all.

I call them common leaders. I don’t mean to be disparaging here but it is what it is… common leadership really isn’t leadership at all. At its best it’s just managing and and at it’s worst it’s something much worse. That something involves fear, coercion and sometimes even outright abuse. 

Absent any real leadership skills people in leadership positions too often tend to use intimidation, coercion, threats and punishment to force the compliance of their people. 99.9% of the people in leadership positions who use those tactics are not bad people, it’s just that in many cases that’s how they were taught to “lead.” Sadly, they were likely taught to lead by people who themselves had few if any leadership skills. So the cycle of common leadership simply repeats itself. 

Individuals who do manage to break the cycle of common leadership and become uncommon leaders don’t do so on their own. They most often have a mentor or are led by someone who has broken through the common cycle themselves. 

Here’s one of the most interesting aspects of leadership: it can’t actually be taught but it can be learned. It is learned not so much by listening to a true leader but by watching them. 

Authentic leaders lead by example. They show the way to true uncommon leadership. I can tell people what to look for in a leader, I can share with them the characteristics that make a good leader, and I can even help them judge whether or not someone in a leadership position truly processes those characteristics but a person must teach themselves to lead. 

Let me give you one example. 

Caring for people, truly caring and investing yourself in another person’s success and well-being is an absolute characteristic of an uncommon, authentic leader. I can tell someone that, I can point out a person who has that characteristic but I know of no way to teach someone how to care. They must develop that caring nature on their own. The quickest way to do that is to see someone else display their own caring nature and decide if the results they see are something they want in their own life.

If you were taught to lead by someone who did not develop those uncommon leadership skills then my very best advice to you would be to find a mentor who has. Find a coach or hire a coach who will help you break that cycle of common leadership and become a leader who can actually make a positive difference in the lives of those they would lead. 

Never assume that a leadership position makes you a leader. A leadership position doesn’t come with the right to lead, that must be earned by demonstrating consistent leadership skills. 

Develop those skills and people will naturally follow you. 

Middle Leadership

Everyone is familiar with the term “middle management” but the term “middle leadership” is rarely heard. 

But the vast majority of leadership actions come not from the top but from the middle of an organization. That a person needs a high position or important sounding title in order to lead is perhaps the single greatest leadership myth of all. 

The top leaders in an organization may indeed make the biggest decisions but it’s all the daily decisions made by people in the middle leadership roles that make those big decisions possible. 

Top leaders who forget that do so at their own peril. 

Many people in the middle of an organization believe that they can’t lead because they don’t have a position or title of leadership. That’s just not so! 

Not only can you lead, you can lead in all directions. You can of course lead down the organizational chart, you can lead across and you can even lead up. You don’t need anything other than influence and a desire to make a difference from wherever you are in your organization. 

The key to leading from the middle, well really leading from anywhere, is to first lead yourself exceptionally well. To lead yourself you must be able to make your own decisions. You also must be able to complete your work without requiring a ton of help and input from those around you. 

You must be able to manage your emotions and attitude in such a way that your presence adds value to those around you. I understand that no one can do that 100% of the time but putting a  little focus in that attitude control area will make a big difference in creating a positive influence with those individuals you would hope to lead. 

Never never forget, your attitude is your choice and it is one of the most important choices you’ll ever make. 

Integrity is an absolute must for Authentic Servant Leadership and the ability to control your emotions and maintain a positive attitude are not far behind.

So…who controls your attitude?

Leadership Integrity

Authentic Servant Leaders know that if they don’t have integrity all the time then they don’t have integrity at all. 

Without integrity you will find it very difficult, I would say virtually impossible, to truly lead. You may be able to manipulate, you may be able to coerce, and you may be able to force compliance but none of that has much to do with true leadership. 

Leadership posers, people who occupy positions of leadership without really leading can at best get the compliance of their people. True leaders, especially Authentic Servant Leaders, earn the commitment of their people.

Untrusted leaders are unfollowed leaders and if no one is following… well then they’re really not leaders at all.

Integrity is the foundation on which all other leadership characteristics are built. There are many leadership qualities and characteristics that matter it’s just that they all matter less, much less, if integrity is lacking.

You can have great judgment, you can care for your people, you can have tremendous vision, but if your people can’t trust you then they can’t follow you. Notice I didn’t say “won’t” follow you, I said “can’t.”

Follower-ship requires the follower to have some level of commitment to the leader. It is almost humanly impossible to commit to a person we don’t trust. Trust comes straight from the integrity tree. 

No integrity means no trust, no trust means no commitment, no commitment means no follower-ship. 

Authentic Servant Leaders know that it’s a waste of time to talk about their integrity. They also know that people of high integrity don’t need to talk about it because they are showing it all the time. 

Demonstrating integrity means making certain that your thoughts, word, and actions are all in alignment. Demonstrating integrity means showing that you do what’s good for all, not for one. 

We’ve all seen too many people who have sacrificed their integrity for a shot at the top spot of an organization (or a country) and in doing so also gave up their opportunity to truly lead. If you’ve seen it happen to other people then you know it happens.

Only you can make certain that it doesn’t happen to you! 

 

What Great Leaders Know

There are so many differences between a person who manages and a person who leads that I could write on that single topic almost exclusively. Great leaders know those differences well.

To be clear, the skill set of a manager is very different than the skill set of a leader. The mindset of a manager is vastly different than the mindset of a leader. To be clear as well, both managers and leaders are critically important for the success of any organization. It is hard to say one is more valuable than the other because without both an organizational will eventually fail. To be crystal clear, there are many people who possess both skill sets, there are far far fewer people who possess both mindsets. 

Managing is about “stuff” and leading is about people. Budgets are managed, inventories are managed, systems are managed, “things” are managed. Leading is solely about people and the singular focus of truly great leaders, at least during those times when they are actually leading, is their people. 

Managers can help people accomplish more for the good of the organization, managers can even motivate people. Many managers in fact look like decent leaders. The only thing missing is the motive of true leadership. The motive of true leadership is to do the right thing for the people simply because it’s the right thing to do. That’s where the mindset comes in.

Managers who look like leaders have the ability to get the compliance of their people. They set up a sort of transactional leadership model that says to their people “you’ll be fine here as long as you do what you’re asked.” Implied of course is the fact that when you stop doing what you’re asked then you won’t be fine anymore. That’s where compliance comes from.

Most people in an organization will in fact do what they are asked. The problem is that most “managed” people will do little more than what they are asked. They can appear to be engaged in the organization and engaged in their work when in fact they are more likely just putting in their hours.

True leaders, great leaders, have no need for the compliance of their people. They earn the commitment of their people and commitment far outweighs compliance. They earn it by putting a relational leadership model on full display. They build real relationships with the very real people they lead. They build them by showing that they care about people.

This doesn’t mean they have to become best buds and hang out together every weekend. A relational leadership model simply demands that the leader truly cares about the people they lead. They understand, they fully and completely understand that “stuff” is managed and people are led. 

The mindset of a manager is “we need to get this done,” the mindset of a leader is “we need to get this done in a people valuing way that builds people up and helps them reach their full potential while getting it done.” 

When we manage people every task is a “one off” exercise and managers find themselves telling their people the same things over and over. Every time a manager asks their people to do something it’s as if they never asked them before.

When we lead people every task is a learning exercise and because the people are committed to their leader they willingly repeat the task again and again without being asked over and over. 

Managing people helps them understand that the work is important. Leading people helps them understand that while the work is important they are more important. 

This sounds worse than I mean it to sound but managers use people to get the job done. Leaders develop people to get the job done. The different motives come directly from the different mindsets. One has immediate short-term impact and one has more patient potentially endless impact.

Make no mistake, people can build semi-successful careers by trying to manage people but people who lead people build more than careers, they build legacies. They build those legacies by building people who become great leaders in their own right. 

You can either be a manager or a leader, if you’re truly blessed you can even be both but your success and the success of your organization will ultimately depend on you understanding the vast difference between the two.