Managing or Leading

by  Steve Keating  |  Leadership Development

If you’re doing it for your business, it’s managing.

If you’re doing it for your people, it’s leading.


We would be hard pressed today to find many people complaining about being “over-led.” We would not however have to look very far to discover groups of people feeling as if they are “over-managed” on a daily basis. It seems amazing to me that after decades of discussion about the difference between managing and leading most companies today remain over-managed and under-led.

Much has been written regarding the differences between managing and leading. There is still an ever-shrinking minority that would say there is no difference, that it is just all semantics.  Most successful people however, followers and leaders alike, would say that without a doubt there is indeed a difference.

What is the difference? Let’s begin by explaining what leadership is not. It is not about a great personality or striking charisma. While a great personality and a bit of charisma can certainly help a leader’s cause, they are not absolute requirements for a leader. Leadership is also not a replacement for management. Both leadership and management are essential for success and that is even truer in difficult business environments.  Finally, leadership is not a set of intangible skills that are hard to describe. Leadership skills are every bit as tangible as those of the most successful managers.

Managing is about coping with the current. Good managers use processes and control systems to make certain things “run” as designed. Managers follow the plan.

Leadership is about creating the “should-be.” The should-be comes straight out of vision casting and an insatiable desire to be better. Great leaders know that good enough never really is and they know that without a doubt; good is the certain enemy of great. Leaders develop the plan.

Managing is about helping good people do well. Managers “assign” tasks to achieve planned for results.  Managers spend time with their people to ensure the tasks are accomplished. Managers organize their people according to the task in the hope that they succeed.

Leadership is about helping good people become great. Leaders “delegate” tasks to help their people grow. Leaders invest time with their people to enable them to excel and surpass the requirements of the task. Leaders align their people according to their strengths to ensure that they succeed.

Well-managed people and organizations can survive in tough times. Well-led people and organizations can thrive in tough times. Good organizations have people that excel as managers and people that excel as leaders. Great organizations have people that excel as managers and leaders.

True success as a leader is only possible when we realize that what makes us a good manager will not make us a great leader. The most successful people have developed themselves in both areas. Have you?

photo credit: © MorePixels

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What People Are Saying

William Powell  |  23 Nov 2010  |  Reply

“If you’re doing it for your business, it’s managing. If you’re doing it for your people, it’s leading.”

So aptly put Steve. Thanks for such a clear and well thought out distinction. There is need and value in both managers and leaders and they are not mutually exclusive to one another. They aren’t enemies, they are partners in the same game.

I appreciate your insight in this post my friend!


Daria  |  23 Nov 2010  |  Reply

I really like that summary William – business = managing, people = leading. I also believe that if you invest in your people that the business usually follows.

I wrote an article about managing versus leadership which pretty much echoes that same sentiment. “A manager focuses on systems, a leaders focuses on people…”

Steve Keating  |  23 Nov 2010  |  Reply

Thanks for the kind words William. I couldn’t agree more, managers and leaders must work together, when they don’t, everyone suffers.

Tristan Bishop  |  23 Nov 2010  |  Reply

Fantastic points, Steve.

I think of the quote “Leadership is making sure the ladder is leaning on the right wall” as I ponder this. Excellent management of an Ill-conceived plan will efficiently accomplish the wrong thing. Great vision without effective implementation results in heartache.

But put the two together and watch amazing happen!

Great stuff! Thank you.


Georgia Feiste  |  23 Nov 2010  |  Reply

I love the visual created by the terminology “vision casting”. Leadership is all about the vision, and gaining commitment from the entire organization to support it. Ultimately, it comes down to the relationships we have built with our “people” to help us manifest the vision. Thanks for a great article!

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