Nathi Khoza

Understanding the difference between Leadership and Management

Interestingly in the last 6 months the world’s leadership and management have been on every South African’s lips.

I don’t think he has the leadership skills to run this organisation”.

I am not happy with how this organisation is being managed”.

Most of the work that I do involves leadership skills development and optimisation. Every time I come across people who talk about leading and managing, my antenna goes up. Some of the views that people hold on these two terms or concepts are quite interesting. The general assumption seems to be that holding a managerial position in an organisation automatically means that one should have effective skills to lead people, and that being a leader in government (and in the community) should lead to better governance, and management of processes and systems.

Many times I wonder whether people understand what these two terms mean, how they differ and what functions they serve. Most of the time, it seems they are used interchangeably. Working alongside managers on leadership development initiatives, I have come to better understand the difference between leadership and management, as well as the functions that each serve. The aim of this article is to provide a perspective on the difference between leadership and management. Given that I am providing a single viewpoint, I would encourage others to share other perspectives to create a better understanding of these two concepts and the functions they serve. Below I highlight a number of differences between leadership and management:

Manager Leader
Focuses on things Focuses on people
Executes plans, and improves the present Articulates a vision, and creates a future
Controls risks Seeks opportunities
Enforces organisational rules and procedures Changes organisational rules and procedures
Seeks and then follows direction Provides a vision to believe in, and strategic alignment
Coordinates the efforts of others Inspires achievements, and energises people
Provides instructions Coach followers, create self-leaders, and empowers them
Does the right thing Does things right
Uses authority Uses influence

What I have gathered through my experience is that leaders tend to focus on inspiring people by creating a compelling vision. They empower and coach people to ensure that they’re energised and engaged. Managers, on the other hand, focus on creating and managing processes and structures for people to efficiently execute pre-specified tasks and objectives.

According to the organisational classic approach, individuals who possess excellent technical skills seem to progress quickly through the organisational hierarchy (e.g. technically-gifted engineers are likely to be placed into managerial roles). The challenge for organisation then becomes “how do we equip our technically-orientated managers with soft-skills to better equip them to deal with people issues?” What seems to be lacking is an understanding of how to use leadership and management functions to meet organisational goals. Organisations need to ask the questions, What is our strategy? How will we achieve our strategy? Do we require leaders in our organisational structures or managers in order to be effective in meeting our strategy? How do we equip our people with managerial skills or leadership skills?

The one thing that I believe cuts across effective leadership and effective management is excellent self-insight – an understanding and appreciating of personal strengths, weaknesses, and how they impact situations and others. Basically, it is an understanding of one’s own personal toolbox in dealing with the external environment. Self-insight is a skill which can enable leaders or managers to effectively solve people, team and organisational issues by accessing the appropriate tools from their toolbox. An example, if one is aware of one’s negotiation skills, one can then use that skill when faced with a situation in which they need to secure a business opportunity. In addition, if organisations understand their managers’ toolboxes they can better position them for business effectiveness.

By Nathi Khoza – registered Industrial Psychologist, Behavioural Specialist