When discussing organizational dynamics, we often use the words “manager” and “leader” or “management” and “leadership” interchangeably. This is a small issue and we all do it, but the reality is that they are not the same thing. In fact, the differences are often what separate individuals who get stuck in middle management vs. those who rise to executive positions.
Both skill sets are valuable and important within organizations, but they are valuable in different ways and for different reasons. Management is about process. Good managers tend to drive outcomes such as efficiency or productivity based on the effective use of resources, procedures, time, people, etc. On the other hand, leadership is about influencing behavior. It is about driving outcomes such as commitment and loyalty. And importantly, it is leadership rather than management that gets people to achieve things that seemed out of reach or that gets people to enthusiastically pursue goals that at some point in time they did not want to pursue!
In short, good management tends to be more about the “here and now.” It is driven by principles such as pragmatism and process whereas leadership is about the aspirational. It is driven by principles such as vision and innovation. Organizations whose senior ranks have a good balance of managerial skills and leadership skills tend to enjoy great success. Likewise, the most dynamic and successful executives tend to be those who have both managerial expertise and leadership skills, but more importantly, know the difference, and know when to leverage each of them.
While both skills sets, managerial and leadership, are important and necessary, it is likely that it is no longer possible to rise to or maintain longevity in senior management positions without a strong, contemporary leadership profile that can navigate complexity, ambiguity, and volatility, with empathy, intuition, and emotional intelligence.
One last thing about leadership that I’ve learned later in my career is that it is leadership rather than management that empowers us to make decisions that we know are right, but that may not be immediately valued by others, particularly those in positions of greater power or authority than ourselves. It is frankly easy to make the expected, status quo decisions that an organization’s culture and behavioral norms support—even if they’re actually less intelligent or effective decisions. When you choose a path that is outside the norm, but that is truly in the interest of the organization or its people or its constituents—that is when you know you are asserting leadership because you are willing to risk your own status or well-being in the interest of something bigger than yourself.