Managing vs Leading – Part One

Most people who find themselves in a leadership position for the first time got there because they were good at doing whatever they were doing. They were then promoted to lead their former co-workers.

That’s great except for the fact that they are very unlikely to actually lead. They make what is the most common leadership mistake of all. They assume that their new position makes them a leader. It absolutely does not!

Your position or title gives you an opportunity to earn the chance to lead. Nothing more and nothing less.

Most people appointed to a leadership position tend to “lead” the way they were “led” by the people who they worked for. If you had a bad boss then you’ve got a head start on being a bad boss yourself. If you were managed instead of led then you’ll likely attempt to manage your people as well.

The problems associated with trying to manage another human being are too numerous to list here. But here are some of the big ones.

Poor attitude. People resist being managed, they need leadership. So managed people tend to have poor attitudes. They push back against being managed in a ton of ways, some subtle and some not so subtle. They procrastinate when given a directive. They have attendance issues. They seem to require constant attention. They question almost every decision. They resist, sometimes massively, any kind of change.

Research shows they most people are terminated due to some type of attitude issue. What most people in leadership positions fail to understand is that it was their lack of ability to truly lead that caused the poor attitude of the person they just fired.

If you’re tempted to say that you are not responsible for the attitude of your people then please immediately stop thinking of yourself as a leader. Developing an environment and culture that helps nurture a positive attitude is a prime responsibility of Authentic Leadership.

Lack of initiative. Every employer wants “self-starters” or people who can work effectively while unsupervised. But managed people seldom take the initiative….for anything but lunch and break periods. Even people with a “go-getter” mentality don’t go very far when managed instead of led. They do what it says to do in their job description (maybe) and not much more. If someone who works for you refuses to do something that isn’t explicitly spelled out in their job description that’s a sure sign they feel as if they are being managed. People who feel managed do the bare minimum required to keep their job. When you think about it that’s only fair since their manager is doing the bare minimum to help them do it.

High turnover and low morale. When you attempt to use your position or title to force the compliance of your people you cause low morale. You also cause higher turnover. Authentic Leaders earn the commitment of their people by leading them. Leaders in name only try to manage their people and the only real “tools” they have are fear and coercion. That might get them the appearance of compliance but it will not earn them commitment. High turnover and low morale will cause even high performers to disengage. No business can afford even one disengaged employee but some research shows as many as 70% of the employees at an average business are disengaged.

Average businesses and organizations attempt to manage their people rather than lead them.

Are you managing your people to an average performance or are you leading them to excellence?

Leading, Actually Leading

If everyone in a leadership position who wasn’t actually leading were fired there would be a ton of open leadership positions. The sad reality of leadership is that most people in leadership positions merely pose as leaders. They don’t do the hard work that truly leading requires.

Think of it like this. If you’re going someplace in your car and someone asks to tag along because they have nothing better to do then you’re taking them for a ride. That’s like occupying a leadership position without really leading. People might be in the car with you but they have no commitment to any particular destination.

When you’re giving someone a ride to a place they need to go and they might not get there without you, that’s like actually leading. They have a destination in mind and you’re their guide to get them there.

A person in a leadership position who actually leads has the ability to change the world for the good.

Maybe only one person’s world but that is more than most leaders in name only will do.

It’s not a big surprise that most people in leadership positions don’t actually lead. Over 50% of people in leadership positions have never received a minute of formal leadership training. More than 80% have never participated in a leadership development program.

If you’re wondering about the difference between leadership training and leadership development I’d explain it this way. Leadership training focuses on the “as is.” It’s about focusing on past leadership experiences to maintain the status quo. Leadership development aims higher. It is about being a better leader than the leaders that came before.

Leaders who actually lead invest themselves in their people. They celebrate the success of their people as much as their own. They know that as a leader who actually leads their success in completely dependent upon the success of their people.

“Leaders” who merely occupy a leadership position think in terms of “spending time” to correct mistakes made by their people. Leaders who lead think in terms of “investing time” to grow their people to a level where mistakes are virtually eliminated.

Leaders who actually lead understand that budgets, buildings and other “things” are managed. They also understand that people must be led and they have learned the difference between managing and leading.

People who are managed will never reach their potential. That’s the biggest problem with having “leadership posers” in a leadership position. If they are responsible for a budding superstar and they try to manage them rather than lead them that bud will never bloom.

That makes it a huge challenge to grow an organization.

When leaders don’t lead then their people don’t grow, or they grow too slowly to have the impact on the organization that they could. Don’t let that happen to your people. If you’re in a position of leadership and your organization doesn’t offer you Leadership Training or Leadership Development then do what an Authentic Leader would do…seek it out on your own. It’s like an investment in yourself.

Lead yourself to success. Lead yourself to truly lead your people.

“They” Do Have a Choice

At the conclusion of a presentation I was giving on Leadership a while back a person raised their hand to ask a question. I had started the presentation the way many of my Leadership presentations begin and that was by saying “your title or position does not make you a leader.” I usually go on to say that only followers can make you a leader.

The presentation then most often talks about how to be the type of person someone would want to follow.

The person with the question didn’t really have a question; he wanted to make a statement. He said that in fact his title DID make him a leader. He said that the people who worked for him “had no choice” but to follow him because he was “the boss.”

The started me off on the longest response I’ve ever given to someone in the audience at one of my presentations.

I told the person that while being the boss may force someone to comply with his “commands” it absolutely didn’t make him a leader. A leader is someone who is able to earn the willing commitment of their people. They have no need to “boss” because their committed people will do what needs to be done in order to assist their leader.

Committed people outperform compliant people every time. They do more, they do it better and they do it faster.

A “boss” may hold a position of leadership but that has nothing to do with leading. A person who holds a position of leadership and doesn’t lead actually is the cause of most of an organization’s personnel issues. A person in a leadership position who doesn’t lead creates turmoil in the organization and demoralizes it’s people.

Assuming your position or title makes you a leader is about the biggest mistake a person occupying a leadership position can make. It makes them look arrogant and sends a message to their people that they are somehow inferior to their “leader.”

To lead another human being requires their permission. It also requires their commitment. People do not commit to titles or positions, they only commit to other people. That commitment must be earned and it must be earned by showing the people you would lead that you care about them as human beings.

Your title can’t care and your position can’t care. Only you can care.

I finished up my response by saying that if someone doesn’t have the willingness and desire to care for other people then they may hold a position of leadership but they do not hold the hearts and the minds of the people they hope to lead.

That could make them many things but it doesn’t make them a leader.

He didn’t have any other questions.

The Art of Leadership

There is well documented science behind the management of things. You input a set of “ingredients,” follow a known and specific plan and presto, you almost always get the output you were looking for. 

 

It’s not that way with leadership. Managing is about things. Leadership is about people. When you manage a budget you input the numbers with a high degree of certainty that 2 plus 2 will equal 4. (Yes, I understand this may not be true if you work in government) When you lead people you can put 2 people in the same room, give them identical directions on preforming the identical task and get 2 drastically different results. 

 

A stoplight at an intersection demonstrates the difference between managing and leading. The red and green lights mean the same thing to everyone. You stop on red and go on green. 

 

The yellow lights however can mean very different, even opposite things. 

 

To some people yellow lights mean slow down. To other people the yellow light means go real fast. But that depends too. If you’re not in a hurry it may mean slow down but if you are in a hurry it might mean go real fast. 

 

The red and green lights are pretty straightforward, kind of like managing. The yellow lights have lots of variables and even those variables can change depending on the circumstances. That’s a lot like leading. 

 

Authentic Leaders know that while people can have similarities no two people are identical. They develop their people by using those diverse skills, varied knowledge and different experiences to mold a productive team. 

 

They rally those individuals to mutually agreed upon goals and objectives. Authentic Leaders encourage robust discussions to reach high-quality and correct decisions. While working as a team they establish both group and individual accountability. They learn from their successes and learn even more from their failures. Instead of assigning blame they look for solutions. 

 

Developing people is the true art in leadership. 

 

Authentic Leaders invest a significant part of each day practicing that art. They know that their success is completely dependent on the success of their people. They understand that while quarterly profits and short-term metrics are important the development of their people is the only way to truly sustainable success. 

 

They inspire their people to do great things, often things their people never thought possible. Authentic Leaders work tirelessly to help their people stay highly motivated. They motivate them with a combination of rewards and sincere recognition. 

 

People are the priority for Authentic Leaders. They understand that all the growth and success of any organization comes from the efforts of the people who make up the organization. Their words, actions, values, vision, and ethics all reflect that understanding. 


So….do you understand?


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. 

Why You’ll Never Lead a Thing

If you’re reading this then I have news for you…. you will never lead a thing. Never!

 

Leadership requires an emotional connection between a leader and a follower. “Things” have no emotions and therefore they cannot be led. Only people can be led. In fact they must be led because as emotional beings we humans refuse to be managed. We fight back against being managed even if only subconsciously.

 

If you struggle with constant “problems” with your people it’s very likely that you are trying to manage them instead of leading them.

 

Many people in leadership positions say that the difference between leading and managing is mere semantics. They believe that they are one in the same. Authentic Leaders know better.

 

Authentic Leaders know that there is a huge difference between the mindset of a leader and the mindset of a manager. A manager’s mindset is about control. It is about being reactive. It is about maintaining the status quo, and it’s about policies and procedures. 

 

An Authentic Leader’s mindset is about vision and strategy. It is about influence and inspiration. It is about appealing to the heart and raising expectations. A leadership mindset is proactive and it is people focused. 

 

Now before you go and get all cranky on me I am not saying managing isn’t important. It is every bit as vital as leading. Asking which is more important is like asking if having air or the ability to breath is more important. It doesn’t matter because without one you don’t need the other. 

 

When you understand that there are real differences between leading and managing then you have the opportunity to actually lead. Leading requires a deep understanding of people and if you don’t understand people you’ll find it impossible to lead them. 


Adopt one of Dale Carnegie’s principles from How to Win Friends and Influence People…the one that’s says to be genuinely interested in other people. The key words there is genuinely; when you are truly interested in learning about people they will show you exactly how to lead. 

The Vast Difference Between Managing and Leading

Leading and managing are seen as nearly identical, interchangeable words by most people. Even people who should and must know the huge difference often don’t. That’s why I write about the difference several times each year.

 

The difference between managing and leading is more, way, way, way, way more, than mere semantics. The difference in mindset between someone who attempts to manage people and someone who actually leads people is gigantic. 

 

The people who are managed feel that difference everyday. It feels as if they are a cog in the wheel, a bit player with little or no opportunity to grow into something more. You may be able to force the compliance of a managed human being but you will never earn their commitment. Only a leader can earn the commitment of an emotional being. 

 

Managing is mostly about stuff. We manage budgets, plans, inventories, buildings, etc. All the “stuff” has one thing in common, they are not emotional. 

 

Leadership is about people. It’s about people and only people. All people have something in common too; they are most certainly emotional. 

 

That’s what makes leading much more challenging than managing. 

 

Unless of course you’re trying to manage people. Now that’s a challenge! It’s a challenge because people basically refuse to be managed. They fight being managed every step of the way. Even if they don’t know why “it” doesn’t feel right they instinctively know being managed causes them some level of emotional distress. 

 

To the people who still believe that the difference between managing and leading is mostly semantics I would tell you that the vast majority of “people problems” or “personnel issues” that you experience on an ongoing basis are attributable to that belief.

 

If you think of the people you’re supposed to be leading as nothing more than human capital or an asset much like your printers or computers then you should expect them to fail you when you most need them….just like your printer or computer. 

 

Authentic Leaders understand the difference between what gets managed and who gets led. Authentic Servant Leaders understand better than anyone that people who are led commit to the leader and their vision. They understand that people who are led will outperform people who are managed every single day. 

 

People who are managed may, just may, help you maintain a stable organization. People who are led will commit to helping you grow your organization beyond your wildest dreams. People who are managed cause problems, people who are led solve them. 

 

People who are managed are cared about, people who are led are cared for and if you don’t understand the difference then you are likely having a hard time actually leading your people. 

 

Your computer, or anything else you might manage, will never know what you think of it and that’s okay because it doesn’t need to. The people you lead absolutely must know what you think of them and if you don’t tell them and back it up by showing them they will almost certainly believe you don’t think much of them at all. It’s an emotional response that Authentic Servant Leaders understand very well. 


If you have the audacity to call yourself a leader then you must, absolutely must must must, understand the clear difference between what you manage and who you lead. Without that basic understanding you will be very likely attempt the impossible task of managing people.