Leadership and management are inextricably linked and the terms are often used interchangeably.
Indeed, so much so that often it is difficult to pinpoint where one ends and the other begins.
It is straightforward enough to suggest that a key difference between leadership and management is the
power source but that is one point of difference, not the only one – and perhaps only the start of the
Those individuals that excel in corporate leadership roles have perhaps an intuitive sense of
when to lead, when to manage and when to move between the art of leadership and the science of
management dependant on the circumstances that exist at the time.
But that is them. As for you – how could it be that you could be a gifted manager, delivering every
KPI, but politely told in your annual review that you need to sharpen your leadership skills – or
equally that you may be endowed with formidable leadership attributes, but your teams struggle to
deliver, no matter how highly engaged they may be?
It is easy enough to build a career path on the understanding that front line leadership requires the
technical ability to lead front line teams whereas the further up the hierarchy you travel, the
emphasis switches to the ability to strategise, conceptualise and manage remotely. In many
organisations, that brings about an initial, early and oft-undiagnosed issue – their front-line
leadership may have the technical skill – and they’re placed into that role, often by accident, because
of it. Their ability to lead, guide and influence is a second-order requirement when confronted with
the urgent, never-ending operational requirement for front line managers to manage quantifiable
KPI’s. It is at this place where those accidental leaders become stuck.
They struggle to progress because organisations train skill first, competence later – and it is all too tempting for more senior leadership to keep a very skilled individual in post rather than go through the inconvenience of replacing that skill in another.
Undoubtedly, organisations in the broadest sense are fantastic at training for operational skill.
Leadership training, often in the form of workshop content, is admirable but fails to have an impact
on behaviour because we are bad at measuring leadership and even worse at embedding it into
organisational KPI’s and performance reviews. So, whilst we have trained our front-line managers to
a fever-pitch of technical skill, we fail them as coaches and mentors. We do not tell our front-line
managers that leadership and management are not the same thing. Those highly-committed
individuals at the front line are the least likely to appreciate that difference – and it is to the
detriment of their careers.
You may be a lucky front-line manager. Your immediate superior may be highly encouraging and
committed to your ongoing professional development. The advice given may well be to ‘expand your
network’. This is good advice – and you should take it – but knowing everyone in the organisation is
no guarantor of progression because this kind of advisory needs an adjustment as it misses out one
essential ingredient: Influence.
You may well know everyone in authority within your organisation, but what is the point of that if
you cannot influence them? At this juncture, it becomes easy to start to tease out a principal
difference between leading and managing. Managing is based on formal power and the ability to
construct plans concerned with delivering a measured output. Typically, management is vested in a
position in a hierarchy and decisions are taken from the top and transmitted downward. If
instructions are not complied with, a formal response can often follow to drive compliance.
Leadership is a completely different element – and is based on influence. Some authors are quite explicit in the assertion that managers can only be organisational leaders if they succeed in building influential relationships. They may be going a bit too far as it can be quite easy to appreciate that there is more than one measure of leadership success, but the point is clear – leadership is based on
influence not formal power. It is utterly insufficient to build your network if it does not build your
influence. What you then choose to do with that influence is a different matter – and depends
largely on personal qualities and overall alignment to the organisation’s broader purpose.
However, if you are willing to accept that both leadership and management depend on relationships
then it should be simple enough to accept that there will also be some differences between how
leading and managing interact with relationships. Management, in the formal sense, concerned with delivering a result, uses information, tools and plans to deliver its desired intent. Leadership though, uses influence, inspiration and motivation to get the desired outcome.
The time horizons also differ: Leadership, being less operationally focused than management of routine, lends itself to a broader, longer-term view than the length of a typical management action plan. For leaders, delivery is a marathon, not a sprint, but managers need to be able to change direction at pace. Building influence is not done by the end of the next quarterly review. Be patient and stay the course for the long term.
Do not underestimate the importance of a leader’s ability to influence beyond the formal hierarchy.
If you require any further convincing, then consider who you know within your organisation – There
will be one individual who works within a team and has no formal authority – but for better or
worse, they may be able to influence their immediate peer group by their attitude towards the
organisation and its management. Those individuals are leaders because they are influential, and
they know how to use it.
Sean M Kennedy MBA is a director of Beacon Business Support, a UK-based consultancy and an
Associate Lecturer for international partnerships for Cardiff Metropolitan University’s School of
Management. He can be contacted via www.beaconbussupport.com