Can you guess how many books on leadership exist? My last count, which was a few years ago, was more than 257,000. Any idea what would happen if you were to read them all? My guess is you would be more confused about what leadership is than when you started.
To make things more complicated, most people don't know (in practice) where management stops and leadership starts. How do I know this? We ask that very question when we work with clients and rarely do people know, and our clients are senior leaders and executives in big and small companies.
Don't misunderstand the intent of this topic. It's easy to assume that you need to choose: either be a leader or a manager.
That's simply not the case.
In fact, the best leaders in the world have known how to effectively manage their affairs and their people. The key is to understand when to step out of the management role and slip on the leadership garments.
Yes, there is a time and a place for each, but if you want to be a more effective leader, you absolutely must understand the difference and that leaning on managerial skills or habits will short-circuit your ability to be a powerful leader. So this is how my team and I think about it:
Predict, control, and manage
That's management. The etymology of the word management stems from the 1590s, and it was used to describe the "act of managing by direction or manipulation" of horses. It had to do with herding and controlling animals, interestingly enough.
So, when is management important?
When you are looking to ensure the survival of what already exists.
When you need to predict, control, and manage processes, teams, business units, production, operations, and the organization as a whole.
Without management, the results would be catastrophic. Management focuses on the here and now. The short-to-mid-term challenges facing a company. It may involve triage and putting out proverbial fires, hitting deadlines, and ensuring that all tasks are being completed as intended.
Management is predictable. It's measurable. And it's repeatable. There is tremendous value in management for companies, but only as it pertains to current sustainability.
In many cases, management can resolve most immediate problems, but the one constant in business is this: Nothing stays the same. Companies must be nimble, able to adjust, and forward-thinking.
And this is where management must come to an end: when it can no longer solve the problem at hand. That's when leadership starts.
The realization of a future that was not going to happen anyway
That's leadership. It's not about giving great speeches or being liked or charismatic. It's about delivering results and realizing futures that were not predicted to happen. Period.
That's why executives are paid the big bucks. Part of their job is to realize a future that's not going to happen through managing what's already in place. And that's also why leadership is typically not an "I" thing. It requires enrolling others to see something possible for themselves and their team that wasn't there before.
As one of our clients, who leads a global workforce of 20,000 people, says, leadership starts by imagining the unimaginable. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave the I Have a Dream speech, the very words painted a world of possibility that people could live up to. It was not something predictable to happen at the time, and even though today we still have work to do to even the playing fields, with King's bold leadership, major steps were taken in the realization of that dream.
An organization that remains rooted in doing the same things the same way will be left behind. It's inevitable. Everything changes--from technology to consumer demand and everything in between--and because of that, it's crucial to imagine what has never been imagined before (at least for that specific organization).
It's the leaders who stand on the precipice of impossible and show the world (their employees, team members, or close friends and confidants) where they want to go. Where they wish to lead.
It's impossible to manage something that doesn't yet exist. And that's the critical difference between management and leadership. If you want to grow and continue to thrive, then you must learn to dance between the two paradigms.
Now, arguably, there's a third paradigm that often gets collapsed into management or leadership and that's entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is the mindset or mode of thought that believes anything is possible right now. It's another critical function that, together with leadership and management, makes business mastery possible.
All in all, this is where management stops and leadership starts:
- Management controls the day-to-day operations.
- Management focuses on deadlines.
- Management solves immediate problems.
- Leadership envisions a new future.
- Leadership creates a pathway forward.
- Leadership solves problems.
- Leadership inspires change.