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Managing vs. Leading: The Difference That Makes a Difference

Leadership and Management

Leadership and management do not exist.  They are nominalisations derived from their verb counterparts. In order to understand the difference between the two, we must look back at the verbs, to lead and to manage.

Understanding What It Means to Manage

Managing focuses on performance and its measurements. Managers set objectives and key performance indicators that can be easily measured and recorded. When someone is managing, there is an emphasis on setting goals and monitoring performance.  Quality management is about creating high standards for the systems and processes to drive appropriate actions and behaviours. It is a definitive process that attempts to define what works and what does not work. Management creates systems in order to maintain standards and mitigate risks. The ultimate goal of managing is to maintain the status quo.  We call managing, attentively intentional, where the intention is to be attentive to what is going on in the present.

How Leading is Different from Managing

Leading is different from managing as its core concern is about others. Leading is about creating, exploring, and communicating meaning and value with intentionality.  Leaders engage others in a future vision of possibility. It starts with dreaming and a focus on mismatching the present and the future. This emphasis on the future versus the present is one of the key differences between managing and leading.  Management is about the here and now, while leadership is about the future and the possibility of that future. Leaders do not manage the status quo; they want to disrupt the status quo in service of its future potential.

As Bob Willard said, “Leading is doing the right things, managing is doing things right.” This is the key difference between leading and managing.

A New Style of Leadership

A new style of leadership has emerged that is centered on connecting and engaging with people to understand where their potential exists. This goes beyond personalities and differences that seek to maintain the status quo. Leadership is about disruption in service of taking people into a space of discomfort in service of finding out their possibilities. Leaders need to become specialists in human beings as we are shifting out of the phases of knowledge into a phase of development to awaken the potential within people.

People are naturally uncomfortable with disruption which creates a culture based on the status quo. This points to managing culture and a desire for continued circumstances. To create a more purposeful culture within a business is to intentionally disrupt the current culture in service of customers. Organisations exist to serve customers, but when they become complacent, the market moves on and so do their customers. As the needs of customers shift and change, organisations need to be adaptive or they will get left behind.

Leading the Waratahs

An example of managing versus leading can be seen in The Coaching Room’s work with the Waratahs.  Like many organisations, they have found themselves up against an entrenched culture of underperformance, dependency, and a lack of responsibility.  Managing the team focuses on how the players show up on the field and how they will address the next challenge, but this simply perpetuates the status quo, and the team realised that they needed to do something different.  They are now focused on leading and disrupting the entire organisation and how they approach the game. The team is committed to leaning into a change that is going to make a difference.  Each member of the organisation is engaged in a collective way, and the Waratahs have an outstanding vision that will change their next season.


Performance Versus Developmental Leadership

Performance leadership is managing in the third and fourth person perspective. It is managing behaviours and actions against set criteria that are observable and changeable with a focus on change. From a fourth person perspective, systems must also change to create a functional fit that allows people to perform in their roles. Performance leadership facilitates change in performance through actions and behaviours.

Developmental leadership is about a first and second person perspective. This type of leadership develops the interior of the individual in service of the exterior. It creates a social system that allows teams and people to connect and interact. Developmental leadership involves coaching and developing the collective interior in service of the exterior which is a translation of the interior.

Differences Between Leaders and Managers

These are the core set of meta programs and principals that differentiate leaders and managers.

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Become a Better Leader

The best and most direct way to develop your leadership skills is with coaching.  Unleashing Leadership is designed for people who are in a leadership role but find themselves managing and would like to step into the role of a leader, not just at work, but in all aspects of life.  

In 2018, we will be offering five-day leadership workshops to help people become enlightened leaders with the ability to lead people to their possibilities. This program is designed for leaders who want to improve their leadership skills and lead more effectively.


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