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Leadership and management are different.  One is not a sub-skill set of the other.

In my view, so many corporations fundamentally confuse and conflate management with leadership.  Without spawning a great debate around the two, I thought I would summarize them using a crude over-simplification that a previous boss gave me.

Leadership is about driving an agenda of change while management is about driving an agenda of control.

Managers manage a system.  They ensure it’s operating within defined parameters.  These could be guardrails of spend (i.e., financial managers) or process (i.e., operational or quality managers) or people (i.e., supervisors), but their job is to ensure that the system is operating as intended.

While leadership is about setting a direction and inspiring action toward that end.

Having a vision for a new and brighter future and motivating people toward that horizon is not the same skill set needed to ensure operational integrity within a complex system.

So when the following occur in an organization, problems arise.

  1. HR tells everyone that they are a “leader” in corporate training sessions.
  2. Executives believe that you have to be a manager before being a leader.
  3. Organizations demand their leaders be command and control personalities.

Can managers be leaders?  Maybe individuals who are leaders also have some skills in the realm of management, but the roles are different.  Rosa Parks was a tremendous leader, but I’m not sure she would have considered herself an operational manager.

I believe keeping the two concepts separate is vital for transformation or operational excellence, but I also understand this separation will bring havoc to our traditional corporate structures and thinking.