A simple difference between management and leadership


What is the difference between management and leadership? The terms are often used interchangeably. There are many academic differences but a simple concept can help with your own career considerations.

If you have children, or know any, here is an illustration of the difference. Management is like taking the kids to school each weekday. Leadership is like changing the kids’ school.

Taking the kids to school is a pre-determined process. A pre-determined process is governed by managers. Discipline is needed. Consistency and dependability are important. Organisational skills are critical. The people you manage may be familiar with the process, but blending their efforts in an effective and efficient way requires skill, patience and coaching. Your people skills are invaluable. If you have ever tried to take a couple of fighting kids to school, you will know exactly what I mean!

Changing the kids’ school is, hopefully, not something we do as a matter of course. It is usually an unfamiliar, momentous action. It breaks new ground. When you have to move outside a familiar envelope, a leader is needed. There is change and newness. People may doubt that what you suggest can be done. They may question why it should be done at all. Resistance or apathy may feature among those that look to you for leadership. Have you ever tried asking your children to move school? Your skills in translating an idea into organisational energy are essential here.

Many career paths move through management and then into leadership. Conversely, entrepreneurship often starts with self-leadership and may follow through with management. We often see that good managers become good leaders. Perhaps curiously, good leaders have a lower success rate at becoming good managers. But that is a discussion for another day.

You can be a manager, a leader or both. But know the difference and know what resonates with you.

The photo shows a herd of elephants guiding a baby elephant (all you can see is her trunk!) across a crocodile-infested, rapidly-rising river with a quickening current in Botswana. Not quite taking her to school, or changing schools, but certainly a memorable learning experience either way, for elephants and us humans. Nature’s blending of leadership and managerial skills on display in a team. The outcome – she got across safely.

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