The difference between management & leadership

Feb 17 2004 by Dan Bobinski Print This Article

The scene was a night class during my Masters degree: The professor spouted his favorite clich: You dont manage people you lead people, and you manage things. I was reminded of this last week when giving a workshop and a manager in the class spouted out the same profound clich.

It sounds great. You lead people, and you manage things. Its salient. Even philosophical. But its wrong.

Before I defend my position, some definitions would probably help. In the words of Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis, two of the most respected names in business, leadership is doing the right things; management is doing things right.

In other words, leadership - doing the right thingsis deciding the best course of action to take. What are the things we should be doing to get us to where we want to go? What direction or course of action should we take? Where do we want to be in the end?

The act of management then follows the act of leadership. Once the best course or direction has been decided, management - doing things rightpicks up the ball, looks at the objectives established by leadership and says, Okay, heres the best way to get there.

Shall the twain ever meet? You bet. Leaders must use some management skills and managers must use some leadership skills. But understanding the differences and working within their basic framework can make the workplace a whole lot more productive.

In an example offered by Stephen Covey, one corporate leader had his eyes opened when he was shown the leadership/management differences. He was spending a huge percentage of his time managing day-to-day operations. He worked closely with managers to help ensure production was optimal. But after he learned the definition of leadership, he took his hands off the day-to-day operations and began spending time looking at the direction of his company. He spent considerably more time examining trends and data, discovering what his company should be doing to stay competitive down the road. Then, armed with that information, he set strategic objectives for growth. The result? After years of stagnant growth, corporate profits rose more than 50% within a year.

Does this mean the person was a bad manager? Not at all. He may be great in a managers role. But he was trying to do a managers job while filling a leaders role. The double focus resulted in diminished leadership. Once he understood the role of a leader, he shed his management tasks and focused on leading, with great results.

To give my professor credit, yes, we lead people and we manage things, but we cannot neglect the management of people.

Managing people involves understanding the strengths and weaknesses of individuals within a work team and assigning people tasks for optimal efficiency. In fact, another way to look at these differences is to equate leadership with effectiveness and management with efficiency.

Effectiveness (leadership) has to do with qualitythe right direction; and efficiency (management) has to do with time.

Jim is a manager I know at factory in the Midwest. He has five people in his department, and he is well-aware of each persons strengths and weaknesses. When sales are off and work is slow, Jim lets his team work wherever they want at the various workstations in the department. But when sales are up or when rush orders come in, Jim is quick to assign people to specific workstations.

Jim knows that everyone in his department can do every task, but he also recognizes that some people have a natural ability to do better in some tasks than others. Matching a persons skills to fit the job is management. Its putting the right people in the right places to get things done correctly and efficiently.

On a construction site, it may be that a carpenter knows how to wire a house, and an electrician knows how to cut wood, but it would be bad management to have them do each others jobs. Good managers put people in positions best suited to their skills.

With all due respect to my professor and my student last week, we lead people and we manage people. It just depends on our role within the organization whether we should focus our efforts on one or the other.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Daniel Bobinski teaches teams and individuals how to use emotional intelligence and how to create high impact training. Hes also a best-selling author, a popular speaker, and he loves helping teams and individuals achieve workplace excellence

Older Comments

Consider an alternative interpretation: Just because wise men said it does not make it right, or helpful. Yes, 'Leadership is doing the right things; management is doing things right' is a colorful quip. Does it imply that managers don't do the right things? Or that leaders don't do things right? Much like the comparable, 'We are overmanaged and underled,' there is more wit than wisdom in the colorful coined phrase.

'You lead people and you manage things' doesn't sound quite so colorful because it does not provide the wit's desire to separate leadership and management when, in fact, leadership is a subset of management. Management is stewardship, accountability, and/or responsibility for resources. Leadership is systematic purposeful influence. People are a human resource; they can be managed. How well you execute (manage) the right things determines if you are an effective leader -- or not. There are managers who can't lead and leaders who can't manage. Doing the right things wrong is bad leadership as well as bad management. Doing the wrong thing right isn't good management or good leadership.

We are all too enamored of clever, catchy slogans. Just because Thomas Friedman says 'the world is flat,' doesn't make it so.

Peter Lorenzi Maryland, USA

Leadership is not a part of management.however managers and leaders do should have varied combinations of leadership and management with respect to the situations.during strategic thinking processes,like say thinking about products of future or say defeating competitors,one can think of combat strategies by puting the leaders hat.but when those strategies reflect into actionable items,the same leader may have to be more of a manager and less of leader in order to foster the sustenance of strategy. Regarding Peter Drucker's definition,'things' imply everything that is required for executing strategies-tangibles like resources,people and intangibles like thinking,motivating etc.hope now it is crystal clear.


In response to Peter Lorenzi below, I couldn't agree more. Everything you write, Peter, is spot on. It's just tough to cover everything in 750 words or less. :-) But excuses aside, rest assured that in my workshop materials and my books, all of what you cover is emphasized.

In re-reading my piece, I see that I omitted a sentence that appears in all of my workshop materials: 'Of course, leaders must also manage and mangers must also lead, but being aware of one's primary role is key to operational effectiveness.'

Thanks again, Peter, for your feedback.

Dan Bobinski

I do think that one can make a useful distinction between 'leadership' and 'management', but I recoil against the vogue tendency to somehow subordinate 'management' to some activity or function inferior to noble leadership. Check out my posting 'Bennis Revisited' (4 August 2007) for a revisionist view of these distinctions which paint both in a positive light.

Bruce Lynn

Love your column, Dan - great thoughts and discussion starters. Thanks.

So, is it management or leadership? Does it matter? Let me put another spin on the topic . . .

I was talking with the facilitator of a PD workshop recently in Lausanne. He was apologizing that his company’s name had “management” rather than “leadership” in their title. He mentioned that the firm had been going for 25 years (which speaks volumes for their success) and that the world had now moved on. But because of their success, they could not change their name to include “leadership”.

It seems that no longer do we talk about “management”, rather “leadership” is considered the fashionable thing to discuss and to teach.

I was quick to jump to the defence of his firm’s founders. I believe, that despite whatever the current fashion is, they got it right. They are a company that specialises in helping managers improve their performance. They teach management not leadership. Management can be taught. Leadership cannot be taught or learned, it must be earned.

Where did all this talk of leadership come from?

If one looks at the management development literature, it is only over the last 15 and particularly the last 10 years, that leadership is mentioned at all. Prior to that, leadership was mostly only assigned to historical political figures such as Napoleon, Churchill, Kennedy and so on. These were people who earned the title “leader”. “Leader” was never assigned to organisational supremos. Nor was it given to any manager. It seems that some writers, keen to establish what makes a great manager great, settled on the term “leadership” as a distinguishing factor. Then they tried to define it. Then we tried to measure it. Some of us even tried to teach it! And there our troubles began.

At the risk of throwing yet another perspective into the management/leadership ring, here goes . . .

My contention is that one becomes a manager when one signs on for the job (be it head of the country, firm, school, department or first line supervisor). One only becomes a leader when other people say so.

So, a person when given the title of manager from the organisation will automatically have people do things for them (either well or not so well depending on how well the people are managed) because of what the person is, not (initially) who the person is. Only other people, the manager’s team and other stakeholders, can bestow on the manager (whatever his or her level, including the CEO) the informal title of leader.

In other words, the organisation gives out a corporate manager’s hat that lets everyone in the organisation know that this person is now officially a manager. Then, the people, when they believe in the manager and have faith in the manager, give the manager his or her leadership badge, their badge of honour!

This definition of leadership, rather than focussing on the inputs such as personal skills, characteristics, competencies, traits etc, focuses on the outputs ' managers are judged on their status as a leader in the eyes of their followers and stakeholders by what they do and achieve.

I have a short test that I often pose to managers to test their current leadership status: “Would the people who report to you and the other key stakeholders whose support you need, do the things you currently ask them to do if you were not officially the manager?” If they can truthfully answer “Yes” then there’s a high likelihood that they have established the outputs that encourage others to follow them.

What are these outputs that set leader-managers apart from mere managers? In conjunction with a colleague Dennis Pratt, I have been conducting focus groups within organisations over the last 10 years to tease out these conditions (these focus groups were used as part of the design process for management development processes). My research suggests there are four conditions within the group or team that exist when a leadership function is flourishing. Leadership by the way, occurs at all levels of the organisation.

The essence of leadership is to create the four conditions that encourage others to follow. When leadership is evident within the group or team, there is: • A shared understanding of the environment - “We know what we face” • A shared vision of where we are going - “We know what we have to do” • A shared set of organisational values - “We are in this together” • A shared feeling of power - “We can do this”

You’ll notice that the word “shared” appears in all 4. That’s because leadership is a function and does not necessarily reside with one person. Whilst the manager will most likely take the lead in establishing these conditions, when leadership takes hold, it is likely to be distributed throughout the team or group ' various people taking a leadership role as and when needed (Charles Handy called this “distributed leadership”).

Management is mandatory. Not managing effectively and efficiently to meet one’s assigned responsibilities means certain organisational death,

Leadership on the other hand, is optional.

As consultants, trainers, managers, my belief is that we should continue to focus on helping managers improve their managerial performance. For those who want to take that extra leadership step, we can help them give birth to the leadership function within their group or team by providing the tools, coaching and guidance to establish the four outputs mentioned earlier.

It’s interesting to note that my discussion with the PD facilitator I mentioned earlier took place at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne. IMD is not about to change its name to include “leadership”. Whilst I’m sure they spend a lot of time discussing leadership, I’m certain they are actually teaching management. They must be doing it quite well, as last week they were ranked equal first with Harvard by their clients as providers of “best non-degree executive business programs”.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

Bob Selden, author 'What To Do When You Become The Boss'.

Bob Selden Liesta, Switzerland

Great topic,

In my experience leadership and management are interdependent. Where leadership is deciding what to do and management is deciding how to do it. Over time we all move between the two depending on what is happening or what needs to be done. I say, “We all”, because I believe that we are all leaders, followers, and managers at any given point, we just have different levels of authority and responsibility depending on the circumstances and or setting.

So, is there a difference between leadership & management?, Yes. Just like there is difference in day and night. Is one subordinate to the other?, No. Just like day and night. They are both equally important depending on the circumstances.



There is difference between leadership and management because : A leader have followers but a manager have surbordinates. A leader style is transformational while a manager style is transactional. A leaders power comes from personal charisma while a managers power comes formal authority. Aleader takes risks while a manager minimize risk.

luciann w w kenya

Management and leadership skills both are different because manager needs executive level skills such as organizational skills, sales and marketing skills, technology and computer skills, mentoring skills, motivational skills and self-discipline skills. Manger handles the leader so they are most important person in every business while leader needs Communication, motivation, planning also create a learning environment, care about the people you lead, be honest, focus on results and let people figure out how to do their work these types of skill to help manager to achieve success in the business.

nancy usa

Leadership: Rx for employee loyalty reform. Public and private organizations are into a phase of creative disassembly where constant reinvention and adjustments are constant. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are being shed by Chevron, Sam’s Club, Wells Fargo Bank, HP, Starbucks etc. and the state, counties and cities. Even solid world class institutions like the University of California Berkeley under the leadership of Chancellor Birgeneau & Provost Breslauer are firing staff, faculty and part-time lecturers. Estimates are that the State of California may jettison 47,000 positions. Yet many employees, professionals and faculty cling to old assumptions about one of the most critical relationship of all: the implied, unwritten contract between employer and employee. Until recently, loyalty was the cornerstone of that relationship. Employers promised job security and a steady progress up the hierarchy in return for employees fitting in, performing in prescribed ways and sticking around. Longevity was a sign of employeer-employee relations; turnover was a sign of dysfunction. None of these assumptions apply today. Organizations can no longer guarantee employment and lifetime careers, even if they want to. Organizations that paralyzed themselves with an attachment to “success brings success’ rather than “success brings failure’ are now forced to break the implied contract with employees ' a contract nurtured by management that the future can be controlled. Jettisoned employees are finding that the hard won knowledge, skills and capabilities earned while being loyal are no longer valuable in the employment market place. What kind of a contract can employers and employees make with each other? The central idea is both simple and powerful: the job or position is a shared situation. Employers and employees face market and financial conditions together, and the longevity of the partnership depends on how well the for-profit or not-for-profit continues to meet the needs of customers and constituencies. Neither employer nor employee has a future obligation to the other. Organizations train people. Employees develop the kind of security they really need ' skills, knowledge and capabilities that enhance future employability. The partnership can be dissolved without either party considering the other a traitor. Employee loyalty to management is dead ' Rx for employee loyalty reform.

Milan Moravec USA

You are my new hero! I'm sick of being demonized for being able to organize and figure out how to get things done. I know how to see the big picture, too, and have big ideas, but it's utterly ridiculous to allow leaders to just be idea people - they have to be in touch with reality and know if their ideas can realistically be implemented. On the other hand, they also have to stay out of the weeds and stop dictating to their managers as to how to get things done and stop undermining our efforts by coming down to 'meet with the people', making promises that we are then obligated to keep, no matter how unrealistic.