Is leadership really different from management?
From time to time a participant on one of our leadership training programs asks the question “What’s the difference between leadership and management?’.
It’s an old question, and not a question I’ve ever really been interested in. To me, it sounds like the kind of thing that is relevant to an academic but not very useful in business.
Most definitions categorize management as performing a number of tasks such as planning, organizing, etc. and define leadership as producing change. In the various articles I’ve read on the subject, it seems that change and the skills of bringing change about is the major distinguishing factor in leadership.
But if management isn’t about change, then it also isn’t just about administration. If all you do is follow processes then you’re effectively a clerk, not a manager.
It’s also true that people like to be led by people who are competent at the management processes. You could be the biggest visionary, but if you fail to do the transactional stuff well, if you fail to communicate, engage, give feedback etc., I don’t believe you will be an effective leader.
Which brings me to the subject of ‘change management’ – is this the same, then, as leadership? When clients ask me if we include ‘change management’ in our programs I usually ask: “Is there another kind of management?”
There are clearly some processes that we can use to lead change effectively, and John Kotter writes extensively on this, so if we follow these process steps is that management or leadership? The process may be managerial, but the outcome is change.
There are clearly some managers who simply transact management processes without creating a vision of the future or leading people towards it. I certainly don’t think we should describe these people as leaders; but then I don’t think they are managers either.
If a senior leader articulates a vision of the future, and many people put in place the actions required to bring about the change, is only the senior leader a true leader and everyone else a manager?
I know that it drives some people mad to use the words management and leadership as if they mean the same thing but I could argue that using the word management and administration as if they were the same is equally irritating.
I believe we should aspire for all of our managers to be leaders: if they are not introducing positive change then they are in the wrong job or have the wrong skills.
- Find out more about leading in matrix organizations
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- See why leading in a global environment is different
- Find Kotter’s book amongst others in our recommended reading
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