The Difference Between Managing & Leading

There is a difference between managing and leading. 

Managing is checking people's work, doing progress reviews, having strict structure. Managing is generally for employees that are collecting paycheck and punching the clock. Not always, much of the time it is.

Leading is casting a vision and removing obstacles in order to maximize the efforts of already self-motivated people who are passionate about their work, have a sense of ownership or investment, and are passionate about the organization’s vision.

When you get the right people in place, it ends up being less about managing and more about leadership. 

The difference is often subtle but is muy importante.

One isn’t necessarily better than the other. There is a place for both in organizational development.

People need to be led in seasons and managed in others. People need leadership in certain areas of their work and management in others. While I may be framing managing in a less-than-ideal light — as if managing something to avoid or never have in your organization — I do very much think it has an important place in helping your people move from a “punch-the-clock” mentality to being self-motivated and invested.

Effective managers create rule and order to help move people along that spectrum and create room for good things to run wild in and among their team which benefit the company.

The risk we run is being unaware of which hat to be wearing in a situation or with a certain teammate. If we go in wearing the leadership hat when we really needed to be wearing the managing hat we can end up walking away frustrated, disappointed, or angry (at them or ourselves as leaders).

As leaders trying to push the envelope of excellence we need to be clear about the distinction between the two and think critically on how to best move someone along this spectrum of needing to be managed to wanting to be led.


*Thanks to Rich Landa and Dave Franco for helping us clarify this distinction.