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It’s easy to let the concepts of management and leadership blur and blend into one another. While there are similarities between the two, the terms are not interchangeable, and neither is “better” than the other.

Leaders and managers aren’t the same, and one is not superior or inferior to the other. 

Great organizations have both great leadership and great management. And while some of the qualities of great leaders and great managers coincide, the two roles are different. Understanding these differences can help leaders, managers, their organizations, and their teams perform at peak potential.

What Great Leaders Do

Leaders orient and lead people toward a common goal. President Dwight D. Eisenhower put it perfectly when he said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it.” It only makes sense that communication is the number one skill of a great leader. If you can’t communicate the vision, the goal, and the path, how can you expect everyone to get there?

Leaders motivate and inspire. They don’t coerce people into doing what they want. Rather, they help people see for themselves what the right thing to do is. Leaders must be creative, and they must be willing to take reasonable risks because sometimes forward progress demands it. They must know how to assemble the right team, unite them toward common goals, and when necessary, help with conflict resolution.

What Great Managers Do

Managers get things done, measure results, and put those measurements to work improving performance. As Peter Drucker said, “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” Like great leaders, great managers communicate, motivate, and inspire. Getting things done requires communicating expectations, motivating people, and inspiring them to give their best efforts.

Sometimes leaders manage and managers lead. But the two roles have key differences, and those differences make both managers and leaders necessary.

Managers must also be experts at planning, delegating, and making optimum use of team resources. The great manager knows how to optimize operations, review the output and ensure that quality meets or exceeds expectations. The following table shows some of the essential skills required of leaders and managers. Some of them overlap because they are fundamental to ensuring organizations accomplish goals.

Essential Leadership Skills Essential Management Skills
Communicating Communicating
Motivating and inspiring Motivating and inspiring
Creativity Planning
Empowerment of team members Delegation
Assembling teams Putting team to work
Uniting people Optimizing operations
Resolving conflict Reviewing output and quality

Why Businesses Need Both Leaders and Managers

There’s no point in providing a clear vision of leadership if a team can’t complete the tasks necessary to achieve goals. Likewise, there’s little to be gained in working hard to complete tasks that ultimately don’t result in advancement toward some overarching goal. Therefore, both leaders and managers are necessary for organizations to perform at their maximum potential. If leadership is a rowboat, management is the paddle. Without both, making directed progress is impossible.

Leadership coaching programs aren’t just for those who are destined for the C-Suite. Team leaders, managers, department chiefs – all people in positions of leadership within an organization – benefit from leadership development. And while leadership coaching is usually reserved for those at the top of the organizational chart, it can benefit both top leaders and top managers alike, as long as they are willing to honestly assess themselves, set personal goals, work toward them, and measure their progress.

The principles of leadership apply to anyone who is determined to achieve excellence, regardless of their job title. If you would like to explore the topic further, I encourage you to check out my books . And I also hope you’ll be on the lookout for my latest book, The Intelligent Leader, which comes out in October.

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