Leadership Perspectives

Leading Versus Managing: Eight Key Differences

In last week’s post, I tackled the question of whether leadership can be learned (Yes) and I provided five critical skills and practices to cultivate to help build real leadership capacity.

I noted that learning to lead is as much about learning to connect with and be in relationship with people as it is about learning technical “how-tos.”  This fact points to the distinction between leading and managing.

One of my favorite quotes about leading versus managing comes from Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:  “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”

As you read the following list of distinctions, ask yourself if you are a leader or a manager:

  • Managers develop policies and procedures.  Leaders develop vision and strategy.
  • Managers direct and control.  Leaders motivate and inspire.  Stated another way, Managers get people to do what needs to be done.  Leaders get people to want to do what needs to be done (read that again if you need to; the distinction is subtle.)
  • Managers explain “what we have to do.”  Leaders explain “where we are going.”
  • Managers give directions.  Leaders ask questions.
  • Managers are concerned with the here and now.  Leaders are concerned with the long-view.
  • Managers are bottom-line oriented.  Leaders are big-picture oriented.
  • Managers are concerned with projects.  Leaders are concerned with people.
  • Finally, the classic distinction attributed to both Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis:  Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

Most of us find that our day-to-day work requires the skills and activities of both leadership and management at different times.  So why do we bother to draw distinctions?

The distinctions are important because while both roles are necessary, many of us tend to spend too much time trying to manage.  Spending more time focused on leading would allow us to achieve greater results and feel greater satisfaction from our efforts. 

Leading is future and people oriented.  It is creative rather than reactive.  Most of us find that the more time we spend leading, the less time we need to spend managing.  How satisfying would that be?


  1. An interesting topic! I have always considered myself a Leader, but can certainly remember a few times during my career when the challenge was simply to manage. Understanding when to use either approach is key. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. You are so right Richelle. Sometimes, we need to manage. I think the key is recognizing the difference and then making a conscious decision to be in the mode that will be the most effective in that moment and for the best long term benefit.

  3. This is an interesting topic of which I wish our Chief Accounting Officers in the Public Sector may read. Most of the senior Officers that the public sector has do not know the distiction between the two terms hence why the public sector has too many problems. It is very important that the Senior Officers are aware of their status. that is whether they are leaders or managers.

  4. It has been my experience that the most effective managers need to be good leaders and the most successful leaders are effective managers.

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