Management vs Leadership

By Maren Perry

Arden Executive Coaching | Management vs Leadership

What’s the difference between management and leadership?

Many of our executive coaching clients are asking this question for themselves. Regardless of whether they are a senior manager seeking to become an officer of the company, or a high level officer who wants to bump up their leadership skills, this question lies at the heart of the work they do with their coach. So what are some of the key elements they are working on?

Leaders Have Followers

This seems like a simple distinction, but what does it really mean? Well, in order to have people follow you, it means that leaders have the ability to influence others, to enroll them in their ideas, to motivate them and give them a direction to go in. To lead and have people follow you, you need to give them confidence that you know where you’re headed and taking them. You need to have laid out that direction because of your ability to think strategically and foresee the landscape of the future. Then you need to be persuasive, charismatic and convincing enough that people believe in you and are willing to follow and put themselves under your charge. The phrases that you’ll hear for these skills are “strategic thinking,” “influence,” and “vision.”

Leaders Set Direction

If you’re the person in charge, you need to set the direction that others move in. It is NOT typically your responsibility to oversee the process of how that happens, that’s a manager’s job. The manager is there to fulfill on the vision of the leader. The manager is handling the operations and the tasks that need accomplishing. A good manager will “keep the trains running on time” and make sure the pieces are in place to move all the pieces necessary to accomplish the Vision. That means that the leader must GIVE UP those tasks to the manager, i.e. “delegate.” This is not because the leader is “above” those tasks, but that you need someone who holds the big picture, and you can’t see the whole forest and beyond if you are staring at the tree bark. This is often a particular challenge for those leaders who have come up through the ranks and used to do those managerial tasks; in many cases the leader is still very good at them and has a natural inclination to gravitate there. For the good of the company, they simply cannot; they are needed to oversee the big picture.  Managers seeking a leadership role can practice these skills at whatever level they find themselves.  Also, seeking to be in the meetings where direction is set and conveyed can help them practice those skills and help them share that Vision with their own teams.

Leaders Coach and Mentor

It can certainly be argued that managers mentor and coach as much as leaders. It’s certainly true that good ones do. But I’d assert there is a different level of coaching and mentoring that can happen from a true leader. Not only does an organization’s leader have more experience than a manager, but they also have that bird’s eye view of the organization. A leader can be on the lookout for the qualities that we’ve listed above and work to develop those in younger talent. By virtue of their position, a leader can frequently challenge and inspire others to reach their potential by showing interest in them and making it clear that they believe in that person’s talent and abilities. Haven’t we all had a teacher or mentor we wanted to impress and not to disappoint? Whether they think of paying it forward, inspiring the next generation of leaders, or developing the emerging leaders in their organization for succession planning, a leader who pays attention and develops those at all levels of the organization will inspire followers.

Leaders Take Responsibility

No buck-passing from leaders! You will never hear a leader say some version of “THEY made me do it” (whoever “they” is). Leaders own their position and their actions. Just like none of us like to go into a store and hear “they make us stock things this way, but I think it’s stupid,” employees don’t like to hear it either. If there’s a “they,” then you are not a part of them, which makes you not on the same team as those others within your organization. Who wants to work for someone who separates themselves from the team? Leaders own their own actions and those of the organization. (We can all, of course, do this from wherever we are in the organization. This is a fast way to be recognized as a future leader!)

Excellence is the Low Bar

I don’t want to pass over the basic requirements for leadership, like competence. Obviously, a leader needs to be proficient at whatever they’re leading. That doesn’t mean they need to be an expert at everything all the way down to the factory floor, but they do need to have an understanding of the issues and be able to ask intelligent and relevant questions of their team to move their vision forward. We don’t talk much about this area, since it’s the barrier to entry for leadership, but it is of course, present.

Executive Presence

While leading IBM may take a different type of presence than leading Facebook, one wants to look up to its leaders as someone they can trust and follow. Physically that may look different at a tech startup than a Fortune 500 company, but there are similarities as well, like Confidence, not reacting from emotion and speaking clearly and concisely. (Read our Top Ten Elements that Compose Executive Presence here).

Managers can improve their executive presence from wherever they sit!


Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman, the Emotional Intelligence guru, did a large research study that showed that TWO THIRDS of the skills demonstrated in the top levels of organizations are those soft skills associated with Emotional Intelligence. That’s huge! We know this to be true: we know that simply knowing accounting is not as important as CFO as being able to communicate well with others, influence their decisions and “play well in the sandbox.” Of course you need to know your numbers, but that’s the barrier to entry as mentioned above. The true measure of your effectiveness will come down to the soft skills.

For managers wishing to move up into leadership, this means work on those soft skills! (read our article on How to Measure Soft Skills here)

OF course, leadership cannot be summed up in a few sentences, but these are some of the areas we find our executive coaching clients working in when they are called to step up their level of leadership. Even those at the C-level are continually working to improve in these areas. What is the area you know is your weakest? What will you do to work to improve your game in this area?

If you’d like some support, or don’t know where to start, Contact us for more information about our Executive Coaching or From Management to Leadership programs.