Managing to Leading : Feature Article; V3 Issue 3

Are you currently leading your team members or managing them? Should you lead them or manage them? I think before we attempt to answer all these questions we need to understand the difference between leading and managing. The debate on whether there is a difference between being a leader and manager has been raging for years now. Most agree that there is definitely a difference.

Difference between a Leader and a Manager

In ‘What Leaders Really Do’, John P. Kotter states, "Management and leadership both involve deciding what needs to be done, creating networks of people to accomplish the agenda, and ensuring that the work actually gets done. Their work is complementary, but each system of action goes about the tasks in different ways."

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An important distinction is that while people are required to follow managers, they choose to follow leaders. So while people work for managers because they are supposed to as part of their job description, people work for leaders because he or she inspires them. The life of Alexander the Great illustrates this difference. Though he was a great leader, Alexander was a lousy manager. His hatred of bureaucracy and his need for excitement prevented him from building a governmental machine of systems, accountabilities, and procedures. Consequently, his legendary empire disintegrated immediately upon his death. Not once in the following fifteen hundred years did the Romans have a leader who could fill the shadow of Alexander the Great. Yet their system for management held the Roman Empire together decade after decade, century after century, even when some incompetent leaders imposed stupid decisions on their people. Marcus Buckingham, in ‘The One Thing You Need to Know About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success’, defines leadership as follows: "… is that ability to form a vision of a better future and then to explain that vision so effectively that the leader is followed." 

Warren Bennis, in his book ‘On Becoming a Leader’ … describes his view of the differences between managers and leaders as “To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion.” Richard Daft added a few more to the first 12 differences mentioned by Warren Bennis in the following table.

As you can see it is more difficult to play the role of a leader than a manager. So what should one be? Should one be a Leader or a Manager?

There was a time when managing and leading could be separated. But in the knowledge economy, where value comes increasingly from the knowledge of people, management and leadership cannot be easily separated. People expect their managers to define for them a purpose and not just to assign them a task. And managers must manage employees, not just to maximize efficiency, but to nurture skills, develop talent and inspire results. With the rise of the knowledge worker, “one does not ‘manage’ people,” Peter Drucker wrote. “The task is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual". I suggest you work on becoming a good manager first. Most leaders evolve after being managers; they start by being good managers and work towards being good leaders. That is what you should also be doing.


Transitioning from being a Manager to being a Leader

Now comes the tough part of actually becoming a good leader. Here are some tips to help you make that transition from being a manager to a leader.

 Know and formally learn what a leader does: Understanding the difference between being an effective manager and an effective leader will help you understand what you must focus on doing. Attend leadership workshops and classes. They can give you new ideas or help you develop specific skills. Pick classes that add tangible value to you. Sometimes the value could be the relationships you establish with other participants. Read history and the biographies of leaders to see how they did things. Read relevant business magazines and books to know what your industry leaders are doing differently that you can emulate.


   Leave the management to others: Ensure managing is done by others so that you are free to spend time leading. You can divide the management responsibility among different team members. So while you make one person in charge of the planning and budgeting, another could be made in charge of monitoring quality etc. This also means that you will have to coach your team members to be good managers. Though you need not now control everything, be prepared to still do some amount of managing when the need arises.


   Learn from others: If so far you have been emulating role models who are great mangers, then it’s time for you to find good role models in leadership. When faced with a leadership problem, ask yourself how your role models would handle the situation. Discuss your leadership problems with them. People who have been bosses for a while have had to deal with many leadership situations. Adapt their advice to your situation and your personal style. Also find a good mentor who can guide you in sorting out your leadership challenges.


   Develop the key characteristics of true leader: Everything else will fall in place. Work towards becoming….


      A visionary: While managers handle the day-to-day activities of a business, leaders have a bird's-eye view on industry indicators and market trends to see where their businesses are going in the next six months to one year.

      A planner:Leaders are able to take what they see from that bird's-eye view and translate it into a business plan that reflects market conditions and gets results.

      A collaborator: Leaders know they need help, and they cannot do everything alone. And really good leaders are able to identify, recruit and collaborate with people and other organizations that can add value to their business.

      An enabler:Great leaders enable their employees to reach and achieve more by getting them what they need to do their jobs.

      A motivator:When your team members feel they own their job, they reach new heights of achievement and motivation. And leaders are able to get everyone to accept personal responsibility to get their jobs done well.


   Seek feedback on how you are doing as a leader: Develop a plan on what leadership skills you intend to develop and by when. Review your progress against this plan. Good feedback is essential to efficient and effective growth. Ask your boss, your peers and your team how you're doing and how you can do better. Critique your own performance every time you take a significant leadership action. Ask yourself what you wanted to accomplish, what you did, and how things came out. Determine what you will repeat and what you will do differently next time.


While you can learn 20 percent about leadership in the classroom and from books, the rest 80 percent, you need to learn on the job. So it is important that you volunteer for assignments that give you opportunities to lead. Or start leading in your current role as a manager. Mr. Buckingham states that "The starting points are different. The talents required to excel at each are different." When you want to manage, begin with the person. When you want to lead, begin with the picture of where you are headed. Managing is about coping with complexity. Leadership, by contrast, is about coping with change. Leaders aren't made or born. Leadership is a choice and a belief. Choose to be a leader and believe you can be one.




   ‘Leader V/S Manager’, Wednesday, March 28, 2007

   What is the Difference Between Management and Leadership?

   Geno, ‘20 Differences Between Management & Leadership

   Sterling, W.A, ‘Leader-Manager: Is there a difference?

   Corcoran ,B, ‘Shed the Manager Role and Become a Leader’, Aug. 10, 2009,

   Bock,W, ‘Leadership Tips’