The difference between leadership and management

Jun 16 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

What's the difference between leadership and management? According to Google, this is an enormously popular search on business web sites, and one that often delivers some unsatisfactory results.

This from a interview with author and management consultant Marcus Buckingham on Knowledge@Wharton seems like a pretty good contribution on the subject.

Managing employees successfully is a rare talent. Even rarer, Buckingham said, is the ability to lead. And all good managers are not necessarily good leaders.

"I do think there is a rather keen and distinct difference between managing and leading," Buckingham said. The chief responsibility of a leader, for example, "is to rally people for a better future. If you are a leader, you better be unflinchingly, unfailingly optimistic. No matter how bleak his or her mood, nothing can undermine a leader's belief that things can get better, and must get better. I believe you either bring this to the table or you don't."

Along with that optimism, great leaders can also bring big egos -- and that's not a bad thing. While some have blamed the business world's recent string of scandals -- Enron, WorldCom and others -- on bloated executive egos, Buckingham disagrees. It's not ego that ruined Ken Lay, but rather a lack of ethics. There's a big difference, Buckingham said. And considering the responsibility facing business leaders to build a future for their companies, a big ego might be what is needed.

"If you are going to lead, you better have a deep-seated belief that you should be at the helm, dragging everyone into that better future," he said. "Virtually nothing about a leader is humble. I'm not saying they are arrogant, but their claims are big."

Buckingham said successful leaders must find a "universal truth" to rally their followers. These universal truths stem from the basic human needs, fears and desires that unite all people, across all cultures. They also happen to be great tools for leadership.

Knowledge@Wharton | Good Managers Focus on Employees' Strengths, Not Weaknesses


Older Comments

It all can be learned. The problem is with a manager who thinks he's a natural at leadership and/or managing. That manager is usually neither.I truly believe that there are natural leaders but no natural managers because effective management is often counterintuitive.Seat-of-the-pants managers can be loose cannon.

J. Murray Tarter Federal Government in DC

Buckingham makes the point of the difference between leaders and managers, but then only goes on to describe the leader sideo of the equation. In my blog, I have explored a number of differentiators, but my central premise is the distinction based on attitudes to risk between optimising upside (Leader) and minimising downside (Manager). The blog includes a short piece on a Buckingham speech which had his quote “Build on your strengths and manage around your weaknesses.” This could be paraphrased, ‘Lead with strengths, Manage weaknesses.’

Bruce Lynn UK