What is the difference between what it looks like to manage and what it looks like to lead? More importantly, does a difference even exist? Or are these two words actually synonyms for the same activities? As far too many organizations discover, failure to delineate between these two concepts can have a significant impact on a company’s success or failure.
The issue of distinguishing between leading and managing is clouded at least in part by the verbiage used by corporate America. Many organizations utilize the word “manager” in the title of the people they expect to lead portions of their business. The ambiguousness created by this practice creates confusion on the expectations of these individuals.
To be fair, most organizations expect the individuals who hold the title of “manager” to function in dual capacities; that of a leader and that of a manager. To the individual who holds this dual responsibility, it is often difficult to distinguish where the line exists between these two activities, because they are often called upon to perform these different roles in almost simultaneous situations. In fact, because these two activities call for different skill sets, it is often beyond the reach of an individual to succeed in both roles.
To be clear, a definite difference exists between managing and leading. Managing is often accomplished with a short-term focus. Leading is generally focused on the long-term. Managing is generally performed by utilizing what the Meyers Briggs Type Indicator would refer to as “sensing preferences” while leading requires more of an “intuitive preference.” Managing is focused more on concrete interpretations of the world and how to utilize these interpretations to become more efficient.
Effective leadership is focused on looking at the world and seeing not just “what is,” but also envisioning “what could be.” Managing has to do with efficiency, structure, processes, repeatability, individuals, direction, subordinates and effectiveness.
Conversely, leading has to do more with vision, planning, motivation, teams, followers, potential and purpose. Individuals can learn the skills to succeed as a leader, a manager or both.
Neither great managers nor great leaders are born. Both require specific skills which can be learned over time. Because the two functions require different talents, some individuals will find more success as a manager while others will find more success as a leader. Just as anyone can be trained to become an accountant, a welder, a teacher or a chef, every person can be trained to perform the role of either manager or leader.
However, because not every person has the natural talents to become a world class accountant, welder, teacher or chef, not every person possess the natural strengths and talents to become a world class manager or leader. Expecting every "manager" in your company to function as an effective leader is akin to expecting every line cook to become a great chef.
Knowing that there is indeed differences between what leaders do and what managers do, every organization needs to carefully differentiate who they place in roles requiring managerial skills and who they place in roles requiring leadership skills. Successful companies realize they need individuals capable of performing each skill set. It is the rare individual who can successfully navigate between these two functions.
As you set out upon your journey in 2013, take some time to fully understand the differences between managing and leading. Once you clearly understand what it takes to become successful in each of these functions, you can begin placing your people in the roles best fit to their skill sets, rather than trying to fit a square peg in to a round hole and wondering why this miscast individual fails to live up to your expectations.