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Understanding The Difference Between Leadership And Management

Leaders and managers: are they the same thing? At first glance, no one would blame you if you did think these two words were interchangeable. As a new leader, understanding the key differences between leadership and management can dramatically impact how you excel in and even enjoy your new role. (Yes, you are allowed to have fun)

To keep it short and sweet, managers drive work to get done and leaders develop people. Great leaders know how to do both of these things, and know WHEN to manage vs. lead.

When we are managing we are consumed with the functional aspect of the work that gets done. This might involve things like planning, budgeting, evaluating data, decision-making, and facilitating the operational aspects of our day-to-day work responsibilities. As good leaders, we prioritize developing relationships and trust with our teams, we select and develop talent, motivate, and yes…we coach.

What does leadership look like?

The answer to this one is a little tough to put in a neat little bow. In the book, The Leadership Challenge, authors Kouzes and Posner studied effective leadership across industries and cultures and found that great leaders have the following 5 practices in common:

  1. Modeling the Way: Leading by example, displaying behaviors you would want other people to follow. 

  2. Inspiring a Shared Vision: Rallying your team around a common goal or purpose.

  3. Challenging the Process: Seeking innovation and taking risks to challenge the status quo.

  4. Enabling Others to Act: Fostering collaboration through developing trust and competence.

  5. Encouraging the Heart: Recognizing the contribution of others and showing appreciation. 

You’ll notice in all of the above best practices, they are expressed in a way one outwardly interacts with others. It’s about WHO people know you to be vs. WHAT you do while you are staring at a spreadsheet all day. 

In general, your leadership qualities are reflected back in the experience others have of you. Through feedback and ongoing development, you can start to see your strengths along with the places where you have an opportunity to grow.

You might want to ask yourself, which of these exemplary leadership skills or practices am I the strongest in? Which one do I need the most support around?

What does management look like?

You’re running late to a morning meeting after a night out with friends and you just got an email from YOUR boss about additional data and reports you need to have ready for the start of a presentation. 

You arrive at your desk with about 10 minutes to prepare (or barrel down the stairs to your virtual office in sweatpants, business casual on top). You quickly pull some spreadsheets and a few PDFs that your team has been working on and you have just enough time to get them to your boss.

Management looks like getting work done when it needs to get done. It’s not always pretty, it’s sometimes daunting but it’s outcome and results-driven. We manage processes, we lead people. We manage data, we develop others to use that data to tell a story. Managing is what you do when you are up against a deadline, troubleshooting a challenge, or organizing information.

“Manager is a title. It is a role and a set of responsibilities. Having the position of manager does not make you a leader. The best managers are leaders, but the two are not synonymous” says leadership coach Doc Norton. 

Why you need BOTH Leadership & Management

When you focus on developing leadership qualities, managing gets easier. The art of getting work done happens as a RESULT of forming relationships and working to inspire people. All of the things that you have on your plate will get done better and faster TOGETHER, but this requires connecting with people at a human level.

A great leader knows what motivates individual team members so they can better understand how to guide them when times are tough. A great leader understands the career aspirations of their team members and can assign relevant projects and tasks that will engage (and retain) them. And a great leader builds rewarding relationships with team members, and as a result, doesn’t have to work so hard to get buy-in.

Great leadership makes managing EASIER. This “easy button”  requires a little bit more focus and reflection, so let’s explore some things you can do right now to develop yourself. 

Strategies for Managing & Leading

How To Develop as a Leader

  1. Survey your team members and find out the leadership style that they are most motivated by. Do they prefer it when you roll up their sleeves and work alongside them or will they thrive with more autonomy? 

  2. Plan a quarterly team development event. This can be something social, but build familiarity through FUN!

  3. Find ONE book on Leadership to help cultivate leadership qualities. Here are a few of our favorites:

    1. The Leadership Challenge – Kouzes & Posner

    2. From Good to Great – Jim Collins

    3. Grit – Angela Duckworth

    4. How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

    5. Leaders Eat Last – Simon Sinek

    6. Dare To Lead – Brene Brown

  4. Set ONE leadership goal for yourself and share it with your direct manager.

How To Develop as a Manager

  1. Identify ONE process that needs to be upgraded or developed on your team and engage your team in a collaborative effort to make that process more effective.

  2. Block out time on your calendar to perform specific management tasks like reviewing data and activities that are more transactional. 

  3. Keep an ongoing “parking lot” of operational areas for improvement to continually seek to uplevel your day-to-day operations. 

You don’t have to do all of these things, but pick at least one in each area. It’s all about your continued leadership development. Developing as an effective leader and a good manager is an ongoing process. Along the way, you will make mistakes but you will also gain confidence and experience joy as well. You’ve got this.

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For more “Boss To Coach” tools and tips, download our free New Managers Playbook.

About Stephanie Licata

With more than two decades of leadership and management experience, Stephanie Licata is a skilled professional coach, adult learning specialist, consultant and speaker. She has trained thousands of leaders and managers in the art and science of coaching as part of large-scale projects to develop coaching cultures within organizations. Stephanie received her professional coaching certification from New York University, and is also certified at the ACC level with the International Coaching Federation. She holds a BS in counseling and a Masters in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University.

Stephanie Licata M.A. A.C.C.

Stephanie Licata M.A. A.C.C.

Stephanie is a learning and leadership strategist and coach who thrives on helping organizations create workplaces that work for everyone. She has trained thousands of Cloverleaf users at all levels to maximize the platform's potential. In addition, she has trained thousands of leaders across several industries in the art and science of coaching for developing individuals and teams. Stephanie has a Masters in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and is an ICF and NYU certified coach.