Leadership and management are often used interchangeably, and, indeed, the most successful people tend to embody qualities of both leaders and managers. But they're not the same thing at all. Why does leadership vs. management matter? Because understanding the similarities and differences can help entrepreneurs function more deliberately and cultivate qualities that inspire employees to give their very best.
Leadership vs. management roles frequently overlap, and for many small businesses, the owner is the leader and the manager…all in one person. But understanding the subtle differences between the two roles can help all of us be more successful.
Macro vs. Micro
In general, leaders are focused on the big picture, the macro view of the company. This includes:
- its overarching reason for being,
- its role in the community,
- its significance in the lives of its employees and
- its long-term vision.
Leaders not only develop these macro views of a business, but they also convey and instill them in every member of the organization.
Managers, on the other hand, are micro-focused. They ensure that the big-picture perspective of a company filters through and is expressed or accomplished by the staff. Managers function almost as translators, making sure all employees understand their roles in the company and how they fit in.
Goal vs. Task
Leaders are goal-oriented. They establish lofty ambitions like "revolutionizing the construction accounting niche" or "reimagining the relationship between patients and physical therapists." Leaders aim high. They tackle big challenges, and they hire managers (or act as one) who execute these visions.
Managers are task-oriented. They interpret and are inspired by leaders' visions, and they establish and follow through on the individual tasks that must be accomplished to realize a leader's goals. Part of being a good manager means that you must be able to take a leader's big-picture goals and figure out the tasks that must be accomplished in order to achieve them.
An analogy I like is that leaders make the list, and managers cross things off that list. In reality, of course, those lines are a bit more blurred. When you look at leadership vs. management, you typically find roles that aren't precision-defined. Leaders and managers often generate lists together, but the responsibility of crossing things off…that's the essence of being a manger.
Thought vs. Action
One of the surest differentiators of leadership vs. management is the tendency of leaders to focus on ideas and conceptual topics, rather than pragmatic ones. Leaders have both the luxury and responsibility of generating inspiration, which doesn't come just from dollars and cents, but from big ideas. Leaders give employees a reason to come to work that goes beyond a paycheck.
Leadership vs. management isn't about struggle. It's about identifying and understanding that most companies require a balance between both roles.
Managers, conversely, take those concepts—those inspirational goals—and they turn them into action. They direct employees to do the important work that accomplishes goals and makes leaders' thoughts reality. The best managers make connections for employees between the work they're doing and the lofty aspirations the leader espouses.
Risk-Taking vs. Risk Avoidance
Big ideas sometimes require big risks, and the concept of risk shines a light on another big difference between leadership vs. management. Revolutionizing, reimagining and disrupting categories and industries can be immensely rewarding, but leaders frequently have to be willing to gamble with the futures of their companies in order to set themselves apart from the crowd. It can be dangerous and uncomfortable, but one of the things that sets leaders apart from managers is their willingness to take risks and assume responsibility for the outcomes.
When leaders take risks, a manager's responsibility is to minimize the fallout by avoiding risks while accomplishing goals and tasks. Managers aren't the ones flouting established protocols. Managers follow rules. Managers enforce rules. Managers stay within the lines and ensure other employees do as well.
Depending on the size of your company, you may be leader and manager simultaneously, and the most successful leaders and managers often embody the ideals and principles of both. Leadership vs. management isn't about struggle. It's about identifying and understanding that most companies require a balance between both roles.
A business can't function with just lofty ideals. It also needs a down-to-brass-tacks practical approach as well. Likewise, scrupulous organization requires inspiration in order to accomplish great things.
Read more articles on building your team.
Photo: Getty Images