Do a Google search for the word leadership, and you’ll get 2,930,000,000 results. Management comes in at 6,040,000,000.
Funny that. Maybe the word leadership holds such an exalted position in our psyches that we don’t need help researching and defining it. Management, not so much. Management we need help with because for a lot us management looks like Lumbergh. And that’s not fair.
A gifted manager is an inexorable part of the success of any organization. But the two skills, management, and leadership are not interchangeable. And even though pretty much everyone has written something about the difference between management and leadership, it’s still hard to decipher.
In 1977, Abraham Zaleznik wrote the first scholarly article about the difference between leaders and managers. His thesis was while the organization needs both managers and leaders to reach its goals, their contributions are vastly different.
Leaders, he posited, promote change through innovation, and ensure commitment through empathy and motivation. On the other hand, managers encourage stability, exercise authority, and develop methods to get things accomplished.
Today this topic is bandied about on podcasts galore, if you’d like to go deeper down the rabbit hole.
And if all else fails, there’s always infographics:
Yet, with all this information out there, it can still be a challenge to internalize the difference in a meaningful way.
I had a conversation this morning with a client who doubted his ability to take his company to the next level. The exchange got around to the same murky management leadership distinction.
He said, “I got the business to where we are now, but I don’t know if I can get it where we need to go.”
“What is the skill set you think you don’t have?” I asked.
“Probably the big one is managing people.” He admitted somewhat sheepishly.
I said, “Well, that’s the problem. I don’t want you to manage people. I want you to continue to be the leader that got your business where it is; a person who empowers the people who work for you.”
“But what’s the difference really?” he asked.
For me, the easiest way to look at it is this:
Management is not a scalable skill. Leadership is.
Somebody who can manage ten people cannot automatically manage a hundred.
But somebody who can lead ten people well can lead a thousand.