A critical component of personal development is understanding the difference between being a manager—and being a leader. In the business world, the term “leadership” is often used hand-in-hand with the term “management.” Yet while the terms are clearly interrelated, they are by no means one and the same.
Management functions can potentially provide a strong foundation for leadership, and our leadership qualities can greatly influence our ability to manage. But the terms refer to two different and distinct types of skill sets—both of which are an important aspect of your development as a professional; both distinctive in the way that they influence your performance; and both of which are vital to your long-term success as a business partner.
Focused on maintaining standards, supervising, and establishing controls, management refers to the processes and strategies used to accomplish our goals. It’s the way we go about doing things, striving for continuous improvement of what we have while using the systems, processes and technology at our disposal to react and respond to the needs of the business. We use our management skills to establish and maintain objectives and standards, driving our plan through critical thinking and rational methodology. Strategic planning, intellectual application and analysis, problem solving, direction, organization, and administration are all guiding principles of effective management.
By comparison, leadership embraces a different aspect of our personal abilities, and involves the emotional or “human” side of our skill sets. By focusing on people, principles and purpose, leadership allows us to seek out potential rather than simply seeing that which is right in front of us. Leadership requires insight into interpersonal relationships, social influences, and team dynamics. It teaches us to connect with our team and focus on our mission. Leadership stokes imagination, confidence, pride, and the will to win. Our leadership skills guide our ability to motivate, influence, persuade, and inspire.
Harmonizing Management & Leadership
From a personal development perspective, it is extremely important to recognize the difference between management and leadership. Some very effective managers are not true leaders, and some leaders may fail to effectively manage. But to take our professional careers to another level, we must also recognize just how important it is to harmonize the concepts of management with the principles of leadership. The skills aren’t parallel, they are complementary.
It would be redundant to argue whether we manage people or lead people, because to be truly successful we must do both. True leadership requires that we distinguish the difference between the two and learn to apply our skills in a different way and at a higher level. If management is the process of defining and measuring success, it is our leadership abilities that set the vision and put the ball in motion. If our leadership skills tell us where we need to go, it’s our management skills that provide the map and show how to actually get there. If we truly wish to grow as a professional, we must learn to become more aware of which role we need to play at any given moment.
Each of us has the capacity to influence both what we learn and how we learn it. Your ability to distinguish and apply the principles of leadership will set you apart from those that are merely looking to manage a process. Are you looking to survive—or excel? Are you looking to maintain—or achieve? A leader learns to manage themselves first. That’s the quality that will determine your ultimate success. That character is what defines a leader.
Honing our Leadership Skills
Leadership isn’t simply something that we share with others—it’s something we must find within ourselves. It’s not something we can accomplish by reading a book. It’s not something we’re handed when promoted to a new position. Leadership grows through a learning process. It’s nurtured over time through mentorship and self-confidence. It’s a frame of mind and a course of action. You must believe you have it in you and be willing to step up to the plate. When we talk about putting together a plan that helps to develop our leadership skills, we have to start there. A plan finds its foundation in the birth of an idea and that idea must become a part of us if we expect it to grow.
Generally speaking, the more we move up the career ladder, the more important that our leadership skills become. Ironically, our management skills are often largely responsible for helping us climb that ladder. Our ability to execute, organize, structure, plan and process is typically what gets us there. But leadership is not just a bigger paycheck or a higher position on the company organizational chart. It’s a different perspective.
While leaders and managers do share many of the same traits, leaders take it all a step further. Leadership is more about direction, vision, persuasion and influence, values, image, culture, reaching goals and providing inspiration. Leaders demonstrate their personal convictions through their behaviors, giving them the confidence to make tough judgment calls and the courage to challenge the status quo. That conviction is what enables them to inspire others to follow even when the going is tough, and still uphold the team’s morale.