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Management Versus Leadership: A Different Perspective

During two decades of HR experience, I have read numerous articles on the differences between leadership and management as well as how particular job titles needed to have more or less of each.

Instead of providing another article on the similarities and differences between management and leadership, this article will take a different perspective. Instead of treating them as separate, organizations should approach them as complementary and symbiotic concepts.

Each might focus on different areas and provide different skill sets, but both management and leadership are needed for someone with authority to be successful. If one is lacking, performance suffers. Keep in mind that leadership and management are not just job titles or positions, but competencies and skill sets needed in all types of organizations and at all levels.

In dealing with thousands of people in various positions of authority, it has become clear to me that to be successful, one must possess both. Unfortunately, in my experience, organizations treat these concepts as separate entities. One example is the informal title given to those in authority. Those toward the top of the organizational hierarchy are referred to as “leaders,” while those lower are referred to as “managers.”

How should we think of them?

Most experts describe leadership and management as different roles and set out to list various tasks of each. Wouldn’t a better approach be to list the tasks of someone in authority and then explain how management and leadership approach them from different perspectives?

For example, both include the following tasks, but approach them differently:

  • Communication – Both communicate, however, the message varies. Managers communicate in order to problem solve, assign tasks, and set expectations. Leaders communicate to set direction, inspire, and motivate.
  • Planning – Managers organize, budget, and control so that the journey is the most efficient one. Leaders set the direction for the organization, department, or team.
  • Staffing – Managers hire to fill positions and arrange people to best complete the job. Leaders decide what human capital is necessary for meeting future business needs and align the staff to best meet the goals of the organization.

So, the difference between them is not necessarily one of task, but of perspective. The old adage “managers do things right; leaders do the right things” is so true. Yet, I think the adage could be slightly altered to "The Leader in the person decides on the right things to do, then the Manager in her/him decides on the right way to do them." One of the biggest problems in organizations today is thinking management occurs before leadership.

Think about it. What do we focus on when we train young supervisors? The typical Supervisory 101 training focuses on management type of activities, such as organizing, budgeting, communicating task assignments, and reporting. It is not until more advanced training that leadership skills are introduced. The problem is that young supervisors need leadership skills as well as management skills. For example, if setting direction is considered a leadership skill, and we wait to train supervisors on this skill, how do inexperienced supervisors know what to do? Maybe that is why so many of them are waiting for someone else to perform their leadership role of setting direction so they can get started with their managerial role.

So, what should we do?

Research indicates there are too few organizations today with sufficient leadership. Maybe this is because training for new supervisors starts, and often ends, with the topic of management.

Let’s switch the focus and start teaching about leadership, even before a focus on management. Too often, organizations think that once a person in authority reaches a certain level in the organization, he/she can “flip a switch” and start acting more like a leader and less like a manager. Wouldn’t it be better to teach lower level leadership skills, along with primary management skills? If so, then as people advance in the organization, training and development can focus on more complex/sophisticated leadership and management skills. In conclusion, no matter the position or level within the organization, the successful person must possess the skill sets and portray the behaviors of both management and leadership.

So the next time people ask if you are more of a manager or a leader, tell them . . . both. To learn more about this topic, check out two of my favorite thought leaders, John Maxwell and Liz Wiseman. Also, one of my favorite leadership blogs is www.leadershipfreak.wordpress.com.

For information on earning your M.A. in Organizational Leadership degree, contact an enrollment counselor at 877-308-9954.

About the Author

Brian Chupp is a faculty member with the M.A. in Organizational Leadership program at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. Brian earned his Ph.D. in Human Resource Development from the University of Toledo in 2010, and has over 20 years of experience as a Human Resource Professional. His research interests include entrepreneurial learning and strategic HR practices.