Leadership and management are fundamentally different things. Which one you should practice depends not on you, but on your business.

Businesses go through phases in their lives, just as people do. What you need to grow today is different from what you needed to grow this time last year. Some days you need direction on where to go next, and some days you know where to go but just need somebody to crack the whip.

When you're in charge, you need reasonably good skills in both of these things--but more important, you must know when to toggle between the two. Managing all the time (cracking the whip) is tedious and uninspiring. Non-stop leadership (blue sky vision-setting) feels like a pep rally for a team that never practices and doesn't know the game.

On this recent Freakonomics Radio podcast, researchers explain that the most successful companies put the right person -- management-focused or leadership-focused -- in charge at the right time. Having skills in both techniques makes you irreplaceable and helps you know when to move your team forward and when to take time to strategize and regroup.

So, how do you tell the difference between a problem that should be handled with management and a problem that should be handled with leadership?

  • Is there something to be counted? Hours and money spent are examples of outputs that must be counted to effectively evaluate whether the business is getting a return on its investments. This is a management issue.

  • Is there a question of who should report to whom? Any people-related organizational questions about group structure, size, scope, and the names in the boxes is management.

  • Is there a need to know when the product will ship? All product, project, and delivery issues require management -- including backward-looking trend analysis and forward-looking forecasting.

What's left are leadership questions to be addressed. What's the big picture impact of the work? What are our results in the context of broader industry trends? How do you positively influence employees outside of the circle of direct reports? Do employees feel connected to something larger than themselves and their work?

In a nutshell: Issues that involve internal information and reporting or clarification of duties are management-related. Issues that involve employee morale, big-picture goals, and outside-the-company factors are leadership-related.

If you want to get better at management and leadership (and knowing when to use which), consider taking a professional course or picking up some resources that will help you hone your skills.

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