How Leadership Differs from Management
Leadership is a pretty big buzz word. Many organizations use the term leadership team and talking about leadership skills while still holding onto the control. Too often they are using the word leadership when they are actually talking about management. As a result, there tends to be a lot of confusion about how leadership differs from management.
Simple put, management is about controlling and/or supervising individuals and is often task driven. Leadership is about inspiring, motivating and working to bring out the best in people to move the organization forward.
I’ve worked for many organizations that had a lot of managers and very few, if any, leaders. Why? Because to truly embrace a leadership approach you need to be comfortable with taking risks, open to new ways of doing things and trust in the abilities of your team.
This can be a very uncomfortable leap for organizations that have operated in a management style for a long time. Governments, school boards, hospitals and other publicly funded institutions tend to struggle the most with letting go of the reigns and seeking out new ways to engage their staff.
Shift in thinking
While the management approach of tight job descriptions and focusing on hard skill development (technical skills) are easier to measure, they’re also less likely to motivate staff to share ideas, go beyond their comfort zone or be creative.
The leadership approach maintains essential management requirements, while also investing in the individual’s growth and development beyond the day-to-day job. You’ll find organizations that have a leadership focus not only offer more soft skill training opportunities (communications, teamwork and other people skills) but also ingrain this approach throughout the organization.
One way to do this is through inter-departmental teams, with a cross section of ages, experiences and abilities at the table. This approach recognizes that being a leader is not tied to a job title. Leaders are not necessarily the people who make the most money, but rather those who inspire others and are creative in their approach to their work. Afterall, innovation is only achieved through creativity.
I love this quote by Kathy Austin as it sums up the difference between management and leadership.
“Managers light a fire under people. Leaders light a fire in people.”Kathy Austin
As our workplaces continue to change with a shift to virtual offices as well as Boomers retiring, the management approach is less desirable than ever. Many millennials want to be inspired when they come to work and know they’re making a difference. They don’t want to be confined to a tight box, but rather explore ways to share their voice and strengths, even if that’s not directly related to their job description.
This can be a tough shift for traditional management teams. But if that shift isn’t made, the challenge of retaining staff will continue to grow.
I recently spoke with a friend who shared their organization is struggling to keep their most talented employees. They get hired, stay for about a year or two and then leave. This constant cycle of recruiting, training and resigning is not only costly, but also impacting the staff morale.
It didn’t take long to see the root of the problem – the organization is tightly holding on to a management approach while saying they value leadership. They are using all the right words in their recruitment, but once staff are hired, they quickly realize the word leadership is being used in place of management – and doesn’t translate into action.
After a few months of hitting the management wall as they try to spread their wings, they recognize their skills and approach are not valued. Instead of wasting time trying to change the culture, they update their resume and move on to an organization that appreciates and develops leaders.
Own your approach
Looking at this organization, it’s obvious much work needs to be done to shift from a management to leadership approach. But they first must decide if they’re interested in making this shift or are happy to maintaining status quo.
For some organizations, status quo is more comfortable. And that is fine – they just need to own their approach.
As for you reading this article, ask yourself which approach are you most comfortable with – leadership or management? What approach do you currently take in how you work? And what type of workplace environment brings out the best in you?
Both the management and leadership approach are needed in an organization. But let’s own the approach we take and not try say one thing when we mean another.
Do you want to learn more about developing your leadership skills? Download my professional development e-book How to grow your career on your own terms.