As a person who makes their living in the field of leadership, I can tell you without any doubt that “Leadership” is different than “Management.” While there seems to be a never-ending stream of politically correct pontificating in corporate circles about the differences between managers and leaders, most of it misses the mark. Leaders and managers play different roles and have different purposes. They both are unique in their value, and in their contribution. While most of the commentary I have read on Leadership vs. Management attempts to please all constituencies, those of you who have read my work in the past know that I am rarely politically correct, nor do I ever seek to try and please all the people all the time.

While there is clearly a need for both managers and leaders in the business world, and while I respect and have developed close friendships with many a manager, this author simply believes that the law of scarcity applies to the topic at hand. There is an infinitely greater supply of managers causing a much greater demand for leaders. Put simply, because leaders are much more difficult to come by, they are therefore more valuable to the enterprise.

The paragraph above begs the question why are there fewer leaders than managers? I believe it is largely for one of three reasons:

  1. I know this isn’t a popular stance, but the reality is that not everyone has it in them to be a leader, and thus the old axiom “a born leader.”
  2. Many people that possess leadership ability haven’t cultivated their leadership skills to the point where they’re comfortable in leading, or;
  3. While there are many managers that possess highly refined leadership skills, many of them simply don’t possess the desire to be in a leadership role.

The intrinsic quality of leadership often begins with nothing more than raw talent and a certain state of mind. To possess the innate qualities of a leader is however not the same thing as being a leader. As important as your DNA is, effective leadership skills are developed and refined by time, experience, and a true desire to be more than just a manager…the desire to be a true leader.

The Difference Between Leadership and Management

Let’s breakdown the DNA of a typical leader A leader is usually a very creative, dynamic, outgoing, and unflappable individual. They tend to think big picture focusing on vision and strategy while looking to make a long-term impact. By way of contrast let’s examine the DNA of a manager. Managers are usually more analytical while focusing on process and procedure looking to make short-term contributions. Two key points of distinction between leaders and managers are that leaders attend to the needs of the enterprise with a focus on the future, while managers attend to the needs of individuals with a focus on the present.

We have all witnessed companies that have been over-managed in the absence of leadership. When leadership has been abdicated to management in a corporate setting you will always find that growth slows, morale declines, creativity wanes, and the competitive edge is weakened. That being said, I have personally experienced the value of true leadership at every stage of my life from the athletic playing field, to the military battleground, to the corporate boardroom. Let’s look at an example of the value of leadership from each of the three areas:

  • An example from the world of athletics: If you were the owner of an NFL franchise and had to choose between having the #1 quarterback in the league or the #1 center in the league what would your choice be? Again this doesn’t mean that a great center isn’t valuable, it just means that the role player isn’t as valuable to the team as having the talent factor and leadership characteristics of a true impact player. Simply reflect back upon your own life experiences and you’ll see that you have come across many utility players over the years, but very few franchise players.
  • A military example: Contrast if you will the differences of two enlisted men of the same rank. The first is an NCO in a headquarters unit charged with the administrative support of a company commander.  The second NCO is a combat controller in a special operations unit charged with coordinating airstrikes from the ground behind enemy lines.  While both of the enlisted men described above hold the same rank, are part of a team, and play important roles, one is clearly an impact player in a leadership capacity while the other is solely a utility player acting in a management capacity.  The military has determined that it is a rare individual who exhibits the characteristics necessary to become a member of a special operations unit.  Therefore they are willing to make a much larger investment in the combat controller, and in return, the military expects a much larger contribution from that individual.
  • A corporate example: This example will be short and sweet, but hopefully very clear in its statement of impact. Who do you believe is of greater value and makes a larger contribution to a corporation, someone who administers policy and creates processes, or someone who sets the vision and creates the strategy? Just examine the difference in the pay stubs of the two individuals contrasted above and you’ll quickly see who the enterprise deems to be of higher value.

I want to be clear that I am not “anti” management. I am however very “pro” leadership when it comes to optimizing the talent factor in any organization. My bias toward leadership doesn’t mean that I don’t understand the principles behind such truisms as: “there is no “I” in team” or, “the sum of the parts is greater than the whole” or that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Rather it simply means that I believe you achieve a much greater return on human capital with investments made into leadership due to the scope and scale of the impact that a leader can make. The bottom line is that I prefer to lead rather than manage, and to be led rather than to be managed.

The trick is to invest in your managers such that they embrace and adopt leadership traits and characteristics. The strongest organizations apply for leadership development programs across the enterprise to enrich the quality and productivity of their workforce. The simple truth of the matter is that if you don’t develop leaders from within you won’t have depth or scale to your organization as it applies to leadership. A bonus is always hidden when you come across a great leader who happens to possess strong management skills as well…