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Leadership and Management: What's the Difference?

Updated on March 2, 2013

Leaders Take the Big Picture View


Leadership and Management: We need both

Stephen R. Covey, in his perennial bestseller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, offers this little tale to illustrate why we need both leadership and management. Imagine you're one of twenty people trapped in a courtyard. You all want to get out. The managers will find a ladder. They will pick the tallest guy to climb first and be the lookout. They will get the strongest men and women to carry the little children. Everyone is lining up under the managers and getting ready to go, all racing to get out before the guards come back.

Except for one guy: He appears not to be helpful at all. He wanders off, this way and that, peering here and there, ignoring the managers and not helping out with the work.

Then he speaks up. Quietly, but in a voice that stops everyone, he says, "Wait, that's the wrong wall. Climb over that wall, and we're still trapped in the prison. Climb over this wall," he says, "and we'll be free."

Quickly, the managers rearrange the plan. They move the ladder to the right wall. Everyone lines up in order, and, following the managers directions, all get out safe.

Leaders point us in the right direction. Managers get us going and keep at it until we've reached our goal.

Whether we're running a one-person business or creating a new career or part of a large enterprise, we need good leadership and good management.

As an executive coach and business consultant, I've been learning and teaching about leadership and management for over 20 years. Many of my articles provide clear definitions and step-by-step instructions. This one is a bit different; It is more of an exploration. Please join me in a journey of inquiry, a deepening of understanding, in how leadership and management are both of great value, and how they can work together well.

Leadership First

In the previous story, things were done in the wrong order. Management came first - and was about to take everyone in the wrong direction. Leadership came and turned things around. But what if the new way out that the leader had found hadn't used a ladder at all? What if it meant breaking through a trap door and creeping through a damp tunnel? All the managers good planning and everyone's good work would have gone to waste.

There is a better way: Put leadership first. First, set direction. Then figure out the skills and tools you need to get from here to there. Do all the management planning after leadership has defined direction, not before. Then execute the plan, that is, do the work that takes you to success.

The lesson: Let's put leadership first, so none of our planning and work goes to waste.

Leaders Dream and Do

Leadership is about dreaming and doing. George Bernard Shaw wrote, in Back to Methuselah, "You see things: you say 'Why?' But I dream things that never are: and say 'Why not?'" The leader is a dreamer, and also open to the creative dreams of others.

But the leader is more than a dreamer. The leader is also courageous. He is willing to name the 800-pound gorilla in the room that no one else wants to admit is there. She is willing to call out the problem or injustice that no one else wants to see. A leader is willing, quite simply, to face facts.

Without courage, creativity fails. Without courage, either nothing happens at all, or all our work is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

With courageous leadership, dreams can be made real and seemingly impossible problems can be solved.

Some leaders have their own vision. Others work to make someone else's vision real. Others are peacemakers or problem-solvers. But all leaders have these qualities in common: We face reality; We solve problems; We make dreams real; And we leave behind a better world.

Busy Work, or Good Business?

Many of us spend way too much time in busy-work. We do all kinds of things, but deliver very little and contribute nothing of real value. Endless reports are written, and never read. My region of Florida is full of empty malls and offices, and yet new construction continues. Pharmaceutical companies make pills for ills that can easily prevented with a bit of diet and exercise. We live with and cope with problems, instead of genuinely healing. We settle for less, instead of genuinely creating.

People can do so much more than we are doing. The tremendous capability innate in each person is largely untapped. When we set a direction with good leadership, then organize effort with genuine management, we unleash all that power, all that potential, to get real work done. We solve real problems, make dreams real, and make all of our lives better.

Managers Take Care of Business

We can't spend all our time looking at the big picture - sometimes we have to dive in and get to work!
We can't spend all our time looking at the big picture - sometimes we have to dive in and get to work! | Source

Managers Prepare, Plan, Persevere, and Perfect

So the leader has set the direction. Managers now gather the people and resources needed for the journey, for the effort. That's preparation. They work out the steps, and who will do what. That's planning. They guide the process through to the end, ensuring that wrong turns are corrected and that no one drops out. That's perseverance. And they fix any problems and deliver the results, that is they perfect, complete, and deliver the results, as close to the leader's vision as the team can achieve. For more, Beth Pipe wrote an interesting article on leadership and leadersheep (excellent managers.

Who owns it all?

As I write this article, I see that some people will read it and think that it is all hierarchical, and that the workers - the one's who do the real work - are being pushed around by managers to fulfill some dream that belongs only to the leader.

That would be a poor use of workers, of managers, and of the leaders, as well.

As people working together on genuine teams, we can do much better:

  • Leaders ask questions, and everyone is included in the answer. Everyone's dreams are being made real.
  • Managers ask questions, eliciting the skills, energy, and focus of each person on the team. They then let everyone do what they want to do, and coordinate it to shared success.
  • And, as Lao Tse said in the Tao Te Ching about 2,800 years ago, "The Master doesn't talk, he acts. When his work is done, the people say, "Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!"

From Confusion to Clarity

This would all be so easy if we were starting from scratch. But we're in the middle of things, and everything is messy. In terms of leadership, it very hard to get people to see that they are going in the wrong direction and stop. Yet we are already going in the wrong direction.

In terms of management, it is hard to tell people that all our work is useless and accomplishing nothing. Yet, often that is true.

It is hardest of all to show people that someone, somewhere, has already solved the problem you are facing, and that the solution is easy, if you are willing to learn from others and to do things in a way that is new for you. We are all so attached to our old ideas and the hard work we have already done.

All this is difficult, but not impossible. If we are willing to stop coping with our problems, and, instead, access our innate courage and creativity, we can lead ourselves in the right direction. If, together or alone, we harness all our energy, we can solve big problems and achieve great things.

Together or Alone

Great leadership, good management, and effective work lead to wonderful results, whether we work together or alone. When a team can do it together, the results are awesome. But, if that is not happening, it is often best to persevere alone. Where there is conflict or foot-dragging, that is the 800-pound gorilla. And if everyone else wants to keep him in the room and ignore him, then someone who really wants to solve problems might just be best off walking out the door and going his own way.

And, maybe, a few people will follow him out the door, and leave the gorilla and the noise and the mess behind.

Those who are willing to work alone often find themselves bringing everyone together.

Creating Our Future

The greatest leaders have often had to work alone. Paul Hawken, the original New Age entrepreneur, author of The Whole Earth Catalog and Growing a Business, said that, if you have an idea for starting a business, and everyone says, "Great," then you are too late. But if you have an idea and everyone says "Huh?" then you know you've got a great idea no one else can see, and it's time to get started.

Some leaders are months ahead of their followers, and others are years ahead.

Great leaders are lifetimes ahead. Henry David Thoreau died almost unknown, under-appreciated, and barely read. Yet his writing, in Walden and in Civil Disobedience gave birth to: the American conservation movement in the early 20th century; the ecology movement of the 1970s; Gandhi's peaceful liberation of India; and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s peaceful Civil Rights movement. Vincent van Gogh's paintings were not appreciated during his life, but he is now among the most celebrated and inspiring artists in the world.

You deserve a wonderful life, and the world deserves the gifts you have to offer. Please bring great leadership, good management, and dedicated work to your dreams, your work, your life, and the world.

Leadership and Management

Before you read this article, did you see the difference between leadership and management clearly.

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    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Do it! Be creative! Be courageous! Be yourself!

      Thanks for being you, Simone

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Hahaa, SidKemp, your Hubs are so inspiring! They make me want to jump up and... DO SOMETHING!

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Bruce, your thinking is very interesting.

      If you think of leaders and managers as separate people, I agree with you. And I certainly agree with the problem of only looking at up-sides. (I don't think that even leaders should do only that.)

      My view is different, though. First of all, it includes the workers, not just the leaders and managers. I would say that workers, managers, and leaders are all stakeholders, and it is best to involve all of them in every decision, as appropriate.

      I also see leadership, management, and work as *activities* not as people. First we lead, that is, set direction. (This involves looking at both up-sides and down-sides. I'm a big fan of evaluating feasibility and return on investment from day one.) Then we manage, planning and preparing for, execution. Then we manage and execute, doing the work with tracking and control. Then we deliver delight.

      We are all people, and only what is beneficial for all is truly beneficial for each. If we don't see our humanity and unity running deeper than our assigned roles, we create the problems you describe so well.

      I hope you read some of my other hubs on leadership and management. I'd enjoy hearing your thoughts.

    • profile image

      Bruc e Lynn 5 years ago

      I don't concur with Stephen Covey's distinction between 'Leaders' and 'Managers'. As you have echoed, it tends to make 'Management' subordinate to 'Leadership' (or at least 'Leadership First'). This tendency to value 'Leadership' over 'Management' has culturally contributed to the bubble inducing, rah-rah corporate culture of going after big 'walls'. Managers don't just ensure execution, they also contribute to the decisions about the walls.

      My own distinctions is that 'Leaders optimise upside, Managers minise downside'. With Covey's wall metaphor, a Leader might have initiated the escape decision (upside), but both Leaders and Managers would have been critical in choosing the wall. A Leader might say 'lets get going', but a Manager would ask 'what if this is the wrong wall?' (downside).

      Managers are more than executionists. They are important decision makers. Unfortunately, due to people fostering the notion that the Leaders choose all the walls, we have gotten ourselves into a bit of a mess where very little heed has been paid to the downsides that Managers (who had been warning Leaders of these risky walls for many years) would have avoided. Now we find ourselves teetering on the top of many walls thanks to the long standing cult of Leadership. Time for Managers to start choosing the walls.