Part I: When to Lead and When to Manage

The question of the difference between managers and leaders is an old one. Yet most of us confuse them, or use them interchangeably. In fact, we all lead and we all manage, so knowing the difference is key to doing them both well.

First, let go of the idea that leadership and management apply only to the workplace. That’s where we see leadership and management used most often, but we lead and manage so much, that most of us don’t even realize we’re doing it. We lead and manage in our families, community work, hobbies; and if we are to any extent the masters of our destinies, we lead and manage our own lives. Let’s start by answering a few questions:

  1. What is the difference between management and leadership? The famous organizational psychologist, Peter Drucker once said, “Leadership is about doing the right things. Management is about doing things right.”Leadership precedes management; it requires a vision, a plan or a goal. Management refers to the step-by-step process of achieving that vision. Let’s say, for example, that you decide you want to get fit. First, the leader in you creates a vision of what that looks like. How many pounds do you need to lose? How much muscle mass do you want to gain? What exactly do you want to feel like when you wake up every morning? Once you’ve got your vision set, it’s time for the manager to take over. The manager develops the plan. You’ll cut your calories to 1,500 per day, and exercise three times per week.
  2. Which is more important for success – management or leadership? Think about it this way: If your company had the greatest CEO, with the biggest vision of any company you know, but the managers were apathetic, would the vision be achieved? Probably not. Conversely, if your organization had no vision and energy, could even the best manager make things work well? The point is that while leadership and management are very different, they have an interdependent relationship. Both are equally important.
  3. Can a person be both a good manager and a good leader? A person who can master both these skills is, of course, ideal. That said, it’s not always a good idea to do both – especially in a business setting. Managers are primarily concerned with logistics and efficiency. Leaders are concerned with effectiveness. It is common for the goals of a leader and a manager to conflict. A leader may decide that her company needs to increase production by 10 percent annually. A manager may look at the logistics and cost and believe that only half of that is possible. The combination of their perspectives leads to the overall compromise that most benefits the company.
  4. How do we deal with being a leader and manager in our personal lives? People often joke that they wish they had a clone to get everything accomplished that they hope and plan. Most of us get overwhelmed and either stop leading or managing our personal lives – whether it’s our health, our families, our finances or our relationships. One of the best things we can do when leading in our own lives, is prioritize. We can’t lead and manage everything, so it’s important to be clear on what’s most important to you, and to use your leader and manager’s energies for that task.

The most important thing you can remember about managing and leadership is that what we ultimately seek between the two is exactly what we seek in our the big picture of our lives – balance. Achieving our goals means first knowing them, and then being able to execute them. We all have that ability, and being more cognizant of that can only make us do both better.