Leadership and Management—what’s the difference?

Most leaders are also managers. So what’s the difference between leadership and management? Leadership is about being forward-looking. It’s about future-proofing the organisation or team so that it remains useful, relevant and in demand. This requires long-term and strategic thinking and inspiring people to do new things. So leadership is about seeing and bringing about change.

Management is operational: planning and budgeting; staffing and organising; controlling and problem solving. It’s about doing things in the most efficient and effective way. In short, leadership is about making sure you are doing the right things and management is about doing things right.

However most managers spend far more time managing than leading. Leading is something they’ll get around to when they have time. Sometimes leading never happens. This probably explains why many businesses fail – people are too busy doing the wrong things well!

Why does leadership get less time? We believe a key reason is because leadership is often invisible and intangible. The results of leadership activity might not be seen for months or years. Management activity is tangible, visible and immediate. Because management work is more visible and immediate, it grabs more of our time.

Take two managers – Celia and Robert. Walk into Celia’s office and it’s easy to see her contribution. Her head is down – managing budgets and dealing with people and operational problems. Walk into Robert’s office. He has his feet on the desk and is looking out the window. He’s cracking some great ideas about where the company should be heading. But the value of this type of activity is not clearly visible or immediate. As a result, many managers default to the visible world of management where the contribution they are making is clear.

Management activity can command a disproportionate amount of our time at the expense of leadership. Management activities such as budgeting and planning are structured into people’s work and are closely monitored. The same cannot be said for leadership activities. Leadership can become something reserved for the annual planning day or strategic retreat. If we restrict leadership to one or two days a year we run the very real risk of doing the wrong things well.

Catapult recommends carving out time for leadership. Put aside two hours a week for thinking. Make these hours non-negotiable. Do not let the tyranny of incessant doing rob you of the genius of leadership thinking. Two hours a week – that’s not too much to ask.

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