The Difference Between Management and Leadership

TheWeatherProjectWhat is the essential difference between “Management” and “Leadership”? Are these, basically the same thing – “The stuff you do when you get “Manager” in your job title somewhere? These are both such vague, all-encompassing terms (perhaps the worst job title for this is “General Manager” – it sounds like you “just do stuff” not even specific to a particular domain!) that it can be hard pin down any sort of definition of each. Also note, very few people have “Leader” in their job title, a lot of people have “Manager”. Why the difference?

Completely ignoring job titles, which just confuse the issue, I’ll argue that these are very different modes of operation. In essence, Management is about “Things”, and Leadership is about “People”. This is a mild overstatement, but the difference is important.

What does this mean? To understand this difference, it’s useful to think about some examples of the way¬†the word “management” is used, outside the office – terms like “Pain management”, “Waste management”, “Estate management” and so on. All of these describe jobs that involve looking after processes, performance indicators, co-ordination of activities and so on. I.e. “Things”.

Leadership on the other hand is a very different job. Again, various descriptions such as “Taking people on a path they wouldn’t otherwise take” and so on, but these can be a little vague. The definition I like, from a course I did last year is “Vision, Team and Communication”. It’s about providing a clear vision of where you’re going, getting the right team together and communicating that vision well. I.e. it’s about inspiring and leading “People”.

And I think, therefore, that the skills needed are very different. Leadership isn’t about carefully managed processes and KPIs – measurement, recording, project management. That is all in the arena of “Management”. It’s about inspiring people to believe in what you’re doing, communicating clearly what the path is, and so on. You can be fantastic at managing projects, keeping on top of KPIs and so on, but wanting when it comes to inspiring the people around you. Similarly, you might be amazing at bringing your team along with you, and inspiring people – but absolutely hopeless at managing a project, and keeping on top of things.

I think this is why “Manager” in a job title can be unhelpful. It’s often used to denote someone who is being asked to do both activities – “Manage” everything that’s going on in a given domain in the strict sense, but also “Lead” a group of people. And these tasks are very different – with different skill sets. I’d even suggest these are quite different personality types – management is more attuned to the Introvert type, lovers of process, people who find satisfaction in making sure everything is “In hand” and under control. Leadership is perhaps more appropriate for an Extrovert type – someone who enjoys telling a story, working with people (rather than spreadsheets), talking.

But there’s an advantage here – and why I think so few have the word “Leader” in their job title. Management is, I think, quite a specific role – you need to assign people to these roles to make sure things get done. “Project Manager” is the classic version of this – a specific job needed to make sure projects are run properly (i.e. “Managed”!). But Leadership is something that can be done by anyone. You can have a new graduate come in, inspire the team with some incredible ideas for the future (“Vision”), help get the team coalesced and flying (“Team”) and is constantly re-telling the story of what’s happening internally and externally (“Communication”).

Unfortunately, many job titles are confusing. “Product Manager” is a classic example – though some of this job is about “Managing the product”, really a lot of it is about leadership – inspiring a team to work on your ideas and communicating internally and externally about what’s being done.

So it’s something worth thinking about – regardless of your job title, are you really doing a job of “Management” or “Leadership”? The former is relevant to many people (and the chances are, they do have “Manager” in their title somewhere). But I’d suggest the latter is appropriate for everyone.

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