Leadership vs. Management

Leadership vs. Management

One of the big questions that many people ask when it comes to leadership in an organisation is “What is the difference between leaders and managers?” 

The first thing to understand when answering this question is that every organisation needs both. And what’s more, there is overlap between the two. There are elements of management within a leader’s role and elements of leadership within a manager’s role. In the last module we saw that organisations are made up of people AND processes. Working with each of these requires different sets of skills and mindsets and that is what we will focus on in this module. At the end of the module you should have developed a greater understanding of where each of these skill sets fit more easily, and be able to apply what you have learned to your own setting.

Before we go into these let’s start off by busting a few myths. The first myth is that you need a title to be a leader. This is not true. Leadership is all about empowering those around you and facilitating development in yourself and others. Therefore, even if you don’t have an official title, you can still lead by developing those necessary leadership characteristics.

The second myth is that you have to be a born leader. This is also not true. In fact many of the greatest leaders that have existed have learned their leadership as opposed to inherited it! You can learn the skills needed to become a good leader. It takes dedication and practice but it is entirely possible. 

Let’s have a closer look at some commonly understood characteristics of both leaders and managers to give you an understanding of where one ends and the other begins. And perhaps where there is overlap. 

A good way to build our understanding is to consider a bus on a journey, and all the different people who are on that ride, from conductors, stewards to onboard mechanics and tour operators. In this analogy the bus is the organisation and the destination of the bus is the vision of the organisation. It is the driver’s responsibility to steer the bus and drive towards the destination, just as it is a leader’s responsibility to steer the organisation towards its vision. Everybody else on the bus has an integral part to play in getting to the destination, often with a specific role to play in doing so.

For example, the on-board mechanic will make sure that the engine is in working order to keep moving, the conductor will vet the passengers on the bus, and the onboard steward or stewardess will ensure that the ongoing needs of the passengers are met. Their levels of contribution or responsibility may vary, just as in an organisation the levels of responsibility are not only variable but also can focus on different elements of the organisation. 

Leaders in any organisation are focussed on moving their organisation from one point to another, that is, towards the vision. It is their role to navigate the challenges, to make sure that their path is clear, the conditions are suitable and the team is effective in moving forward. To do this requires a good leader to hold a clear understanding of the organisational culture and a deep understanding of people – and this is where the critical differences lie between managers and leaders.

I’m going to go through a few key areas which could be considered to differentiate between leaders and managers:

The first is about mindset. Managers tend to have, and need to have, a FIXED MINDSET approach to their roles. This is because, as I mentioned earlier, good organisations need people to run and manage their systems and processes. In our bus analogy the conductor checks tickets. There is no grey area or optional processing, they simply need to check that the passengers have the right to be on the bus or not. They operate within a set of parameters that, until they are informed otherwise, remain as they are. This is efficient and managers need to know their job and stick to a set of rules in order to do it completely.
Leaders, on the other hand, need to maintain more of a GROWTH MINDSET in order to keep looking for ways to take the organisation from point A to point B. The driver of the bus may need to make decisions on an ad-hoc basis. There are no clear set of rules on how to get from point A to point B. The route may be blocked by a herd of goats necessitating the bus to pause for some time, or worse, the road may be permanently washed away by rains, necessitating a complete turnaround and alternative choice of route. Leaders exercise their ability to make decisions based on prevailing circumstances, to keep moving their team in the right direction.

The second point is about what their duties involve. A manager’s duties are all about maintaining the status quo – working within the systems and processes that exist in the organisation. Our on-board mechanic needs to know how to keep the engine running efficiently because without the engine the bus would grind to a halt and the destination could not be reached. Managers focus on administering and maintaining processes and systems. Managers are TASK FOCUSSED.

A leader, on the other hand, is PEOPLE FOCUSSED. A leader’s duties focus on moving forward, moving from A to B, driving towards that vision that all good organisations have. Perhaps thinking of new and innovative systems and processes to help that drive, and that will support the team in their roles. They don’t     however, have to focus on maintaining systems, they can leave this for their managers to do. Leaders understand that without having their team on side there can be no sustainable progress.

And finally, managers UTILISE human resources (people) to achieve what needs to be achieved to fulfil the systems within which they work. They typically have a certain human resource allocation who report to them, and they manage these people just as you would manage any resource. Of course, good managers still consider the human element and work with their teams well, but ultimately their teams perform a purpose and that purpose is to continue keeping the bus going. 

Leaders, on the other hand, MOTIVATE people and EMPOWER them to make decisions. They focus on human capital as a resource to help shape and direct the organisation. A skilled leader will accommodate the people in his/her organisation, not just their skill sets, by including them all as integral parts of the organisational culture. 

So in summary, a good manager will make sure that the people in his team understand their roles and responsibilities and they hold them to account through appraisal systems and monitoring. A good manager will also resist micro-managing their team through building high levels of trust between themselves and their team members. And finally a good manager will ensure that they are utilising their human resources effectively to make sure that their team is not overworked, that they have the tools to complete their roles effectively and that they are given opportunities to maintain their skills within their specific roles.

A good leader will understand the human capital on their teams, by listening to their ideas, empowering them to make choices and allowing them to contribute to overall team effectiveness. A good leader will make sure that, through listening, supporting and coaching, they shape the direction of the team and tread the continual line between the needs of their teams, and the direction of the organisation.

Throughout these modules we will be focussing on leadership skills, as they apply to those with leadership titles, as well as those in the organisation looking to empower those around them. You may already have a leadership role, be about to take one up or you may just be interested in leadership as a concept. Regardless of which of these you identify with, you will learn skills and grow understanding throughout these modules, that will benefit you in your existing role as a member of a team. And remember, leadership skills can be learned by anyone who has the desire and the interest to learn about leadership.

Point of Reflection:
Put yourself in one of your team members’ shoes. Do you think that he/she would view you and a leader or a manager?
Personal Development Activity:
Process Audit (60 mins)
Below you will find a list of typical activities that leaders and managers do. Your task is to sort these into ‘Leadership’ tasks and ‘Management’ tasks.
In your leadership journal create two columns on a blank page, one entitled ‘Leadership’ and the other ‘Management’. Place each of these tasks in the column that you feel they belong to. 

Scheduling work
Sharing a vision
Plan and prioritise steps to task achievement
Use analytical data to support recommendations
Explain goals, plan and roles
Provide feedback on performance
Motivating staff
Provide focus
Create a ‘culture’
Inspiring people
Delegating tasks
Ensuring predictability
Coordinate effort
Coordinate resources
Give orders and instructions
Act as interface between team and outside
Take risks
Guide progress
Evaluate progress
Check task completion
Create a positive team feeling
Monitor feelings and morale
Look ‘over the horizon’
Appeal to peoples’ emotions
Follow systems and procedures
Provide development opportunities
Ensure effective induction
Monitor budgets, tasks etc
Use analytical data to forecast trends
Monitoring progress
Unleashing potential
Be a good role model
Appeal to rational thinking
Build teams