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Management vs. leadership: Is there a difference?

In the business world, management is usually thought of in practical terms, while leadership is discussed as a motivational role.

There is an enormous amount of writing and commentary about management and leadership, which are often used interchangeably. The focus is usually on the practical aspects of management – including the authority bestowed on managers because of their position in an organisation’s hierarchy – and the motivational aspects of leadership.

Both management and leadership can be harnessed to drive business success. Both are demanding attributes and can be defined in their broadest terms. Leadership is deciding what must happen and what direction to take. Management is getting it done and ensuring the organisation is moving in the required direction.

Leaders are managers; managers need to be leaders

It’s easy to get hung up on the difference between management and leadership. If you are a CEO, you are by definition a leader. The organisation will go where you take it for good or ill. Likewise, you are also a manager.

You have subordinates who report to you, and your role as manager is to oversee the structure that controls the flow of information and decisions. An effective CEO will utilise both skillsets in order to take the organisation forward.

Working on the weaker of the 2 attributes – whether management or leadership – will carry you further. We are all much more comfortable concentrating on something we are good at and in business it’s no different. We are just as susceptible to devoting too much time to tasks that are in our comfort zone.

Don’t be afraid to take risks

If you are a good leader but not such a good manager, don’t brush that off as a mere detail. It’s a sign of good leadership to be able to identify your lack of interest in management as a risk to the business. Consider delegating the management of a project to a colleague and make yourself accountable to them.

If you are a great manager but struggle with leadership, you might consider taking more risks. Fear of failure often holds us back and the iconic leaders in the business world seemed to have unshakable confidence in their ultimate success.

Putting to one side the awkward fact that only the winners ever get a book about their exploits written about them, it’s important to remember that the term ‘entrepreneur’ describes someone taking a business risk.

Risk-taking is fundamentally going after an outcome that may not be achieved. Provided you have assessed the consequences of failure and have contingency plans in place, you give it your best shot. Every new product or service, that has ever been introduced to our market economy, was launched by a risk-taking entrepreneur.

Develop future leaders in your workforce

Another aspect of leadership that has been widely written about is the ability to identify and develop people in an organisation to realise their full potential. For example, the attribute I look for in a future leader is someone who can influence direction in others without the position or authority to do so.

People with ideas, who are willing to put them forward without the authority to implement them – these are people already thinking about the direction and objectives of the organisation.

Management and leadership are not attributes limited to the CEO or a top executive. Indeed, it’s the identification of these qualities among the junior levels of an organisation that marks them out for promotion and development.

For those of you just starting out, consider these pointers.

  1. It’s not going to be handed to you.

    Becoming a manager and leader starts with your own desire and ambition. You must commit to your own career goals, to the goals of those who employ you, and to the overarching vision of the company.

  2. Develop both management and leadership skills.

    Develop a reputation for getting things done efficiently and on time. Be proactive and offer suggestions about how to solve problems without being asked to.

  3. Stick around with one organisation for a while.

    Changing jobs every 2 years is very short sighted. You are leaving just as your skills and knowledge of the business are becoming valuable. I recommend sticking with one organisation for at least 3 years to truly maximise your career development opportunities.

  4. Find a mentor and take their advice.

    Find a mentor who has worked in a similar field to you and who has ‘been there’ before you. Don’t be afraid to ask them to meet up to talk about their experiences. Most leaders are only too happy to do so, and asking them takes vision and leadership.

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