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Leadership Isn’t Management (and Vice-Versa)

leaders at every level logoIn your organization, do you call the people at the tip-top of the org chart “leaders” and use the title “managers” for people who oversee teams? If so, it implies that leadership is exclusively the domain of senior managers. Wrong! Leadership isn’t management at all!

You’ve probably seen firsthand proof of this. You know “leaders” at the top who are poor managers. You’ve also known people without a senior-level title who lead others by virtue of their influence alone. 

Sure, we’d all prefer that every manager be a good leader… And we’d like to see strong managerial effectiveness in the people who lead. Without deliberate attention and training, though, this is unlikely to happen. We’ll be exploring this throughout this new 13-part series, Leaders at Every Level, here in the CONNECT2Lead Blog

Let’s start with the difference in these two words: manage and lead.

To manage means to handle. People who manage are tasked with handling the work and delivering the desired results. Typically, they get this done through other people. 

To lead means to guide. The Middle English root word, leden, related to showing people the way forward and helping them travel to a new place. 

Managing and leading are both important. But they’re not the same.   

5 Dangerous Myths and Misperceptions about Leaders   

Leadership is not a synonym for management. Although they can (and should!) co-exist, leadership and management are supported by different skills and mindsets. 

In the day-to-day, effective management is essential. Skills for setting expectations, giving feedback, delegating, planning, and administering policy are needed. 

Envisioning the future and bringing others into a shared vision requires leadership. The abilities to inspire others, see the “bigger picture” and anticipate change, and develop leadership in others are essential for leading effectively.

figure comparing apple to orangeManagement is a science, and it’s well-defined by standard job descriptions, MBA programs, and performance metrics for managers.  

On the other hand, leadership is often misunderstood. These myths and misperceptions about leaders are prevalent but inaccurate. 

  1. It’s lonely at the top. If it is, you’re doing it all wrong! Leadership is about relationships, and effective leaders involve and engage others in everything they do. 

  2. Only some people have the natural-born ability to be leaders. Research proves that everyone has the capacity to lead and some attributes that make them capable of leading. At times, we all lead (whether we realize it or not!). 

  3. Leaders are charismatic and extroverted. This is a stereotype, not a valid benchmark for measuring your own ability to lead. Personality style is not an indication of leadership potential. 

  4. You need a title and authority to lead. This may be true for the work of managing, but leaders rely less on authority (“you have to”) and more on influence (“here’s why it’s a good idea to”). 

  5. To lead, you have to be appointed or elected. Most leadership happens informally. We all rely, at different times, on different people to guide us. They rely on us, too, to lead when needed. 

To understand leadership, discard all five of these myths. Anyone who guides others is, in that moment, a leader. 

If Leadership Isn’t Management, What Is It?   

While management is a science, leadership is an art. Specifically: 

Leadership is the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.

This definition is from Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, the authors and researchers behind the body of work known as The Leadership Challenge®. It’s based on 40 years of research with over six million leaders from all around the world. Each word in this definition is carefully chosen and intentional. Let’s break it down:

Art: This implies individual expression and interpretation. With art, there is creation and reception. It’s part of what makes leadership a relationship between two people. 

Mobilizing: Getting a group to move, collectively, in the same direction toward a desired destination. 

To Want to Struggle: It’s not “struggle” alone! And it’s not merely for the sake of struggle. It’s about wanting something so badly that you’re willing to struggle for it. 

Shared Aspirations: Not the aspiration of the leader alone, but a SHARED aspiration… one that everyone in the group believes in and cares about enough to want to struggle for it. 

While management is, by necessity, focused on short-term goals and daily deliverables, leadership is more focused on the long-term. The vision (shared aspiration) is the realm of leadership and the subsidiary goals are monitored by mangers. 

While managers look at tasks and rules and work performance, leaders look at learning and development.   

This is why it’s important to distinguish between leadership and management. If you acknowledge that leadership isn’t management, you won’t assume that leadership is immediately conferred on people who are selected into management roles. You won’t fail to offer development opportunities and training to build leadership skills. 

To learn more about the differences between leading and managing, view this on-demand presentation on the People First Potential Channel. 

Who’s Eligible, Then, to Be a Leader? 

Once you unbundle the word “leader” from any particular level on the org chart, you’ll recognize the opportunities for anyone to lead. 

You can watch two toddlers playing in the sandbox and see leadership. It’s not positional and permanent. It’s situational and based on one toddler’s ability to guide the other AND on the second toddler’s interest and willingness to follow the other. The roles may reverse when the former follower has superior knowledge or stronger passion about a new activity. 

In any workplace, this is similarly possible and positive. Consider these opportunities for leadership:

  • Mentoring happens when one person knows more about a specific subject than another person does. The mentor need not have a longer tenure, higher position, or older age than the mentee.  
  • Cross-functional collaboration depends on people sharing, trusting, and teaching each other. The ebb and flow of individuals leading each other ennobles all and enables better outcomes. 
  • Team meetings ought to provide more than top-down dissemination of information. Inviting idea exchange, input, and shared leadership enhances team decisions and problem-solving.
  • New-hire onboarding can be shared among all members of the team. No need for HR or managers to do all the teaching and inspiring. 
  • After-action reviews provide the perfect opportunity for others to share and engage others in envisioning something new, different, better in the future. 

These examples give frontline contributors a specific forum for leading. Rather than limiting them to a checklist of deliverables, include expectations and freedom for them to unleash “the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.” 

Everyone is eligible to lead. Everyone already leads, at times and in situations where they are given license to lead. Expand awareness of what leadership is and encourage others to liberate the leaders within.

Looking for a good starting point? Check out Self Empowered™, a course designed specifically for leaders at every level.