A colleague recently made a comment about the difference between leadership and management, and how training and coaching tends to focus on one (usually leadership these days) and not the other. I was intrigued by her comment because, in my view, management skills are critically important, with leadership being just one of the skills required to manage a great team. But a cursory search for articles on the topic convinced me she was on to something – while leadership articles abound, information on critical management skills and capability is in shorter supply.
What is the difference between leadership and management, anyway?
According to Google, to lead is “to show (someone or something) the way to a destination by going in front or beside them”, while to manage is “to administer and regulate (resources under one’s control)”. I believe that being a skilled manager includes leadership, but is so much more than that. Leadership is one of the soft skills involved in effective management – when you have strong leadership skills, you have the ability to set a direction and inspire your team to get there, often by example. But management isn’t a soft role – it requires hard skills such as data management, financial management, setting and managing targets, metrics and KPIs, and effective project management, as well as other competencies including organizational knowledge, the ability to remove roadblocks for your team, having difficult conversations and delivering hard truths, and team development skills, including proactively looking for opportunities for your team members to learn and grow.
A manager with strong leadership skills can create a vision, but it’s their other management skills that get the right team in place and bring the vision to fruition. A smart manager can also identify leaders within the ranks of their team (since leadership is a quality more than a position) and leverage those leaders to positively influence the team in the right direction.
Though management and leadership are different, they are interdependent in the sense that it would be difficult to excel as a manager without strong leadership skills. A manager who is so focused on spreadsheets that they fail to notice when their team is discouraged or lacking in adequate direction, will find that the numbers begin to reflect the leadership void in a negative way. On the other hand, though, a manager so focused on rallying and inspiring the troops, but who fails to ensure the right resources and skills set are in place, keep an eye on the profit metrics or resource allocation, or who shies away from difficult but necessary conversations, will find that leadership is not enough to make them an effective manager.
Why does all this matter? Because when you have been given responsibility for a team or project, your ultimate success will depend on your management skills. By thinking about your strengths and weaknesses in all areas of management, including but not limited to your leadership skills, you can accurately determine where you need to grow to be more effective. While the business education and coaching world is very focusing on leadership at this moment in time, this may not be what you need – perhaps you’d benefit more from a 1/2 day session on defining and managing KPIs than a week-long leadership bootcamp. Understanding management as distinct from leadership will enable you to navigate the educational, resource and coaching market far more effectively, so you can get the most out of your career development investments.