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Leading Versus Managing: Eight Key Differences

One of my favorite quotes about leading versus managing comes from Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”

As you read the following list of distinctions, ask yourself if you are a leader or a manager:

  • Mangers develop policies and procedures. Leaders develop vision and strategy.
  • Managers direct and control. Leaders motivate and inspire. Started another way. Managers get people to do what needs to be done. Leaders get people to want to do what needs to be done (read that again if you need to; the distinction is subtle.)
  • Managers explain “what we have to do.” Leaders ask questions.
  • Managers are concerned with the here and now. Leaders are concerned with the long-view.
  • Managers are bottom-line oriented. Leaders are big-pictured oriented.
  • Managers are concerned with projects. Leaders are concerned with people.
  • Finally, the classic distinction attributed to both Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis: Management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things.

Most of us find that our day-to-day work requires the skills and activities of both leadership and management at different times. So why do we bother to draw distinctions? The distinctions are important because while both roles are necessary, many of us tend to spend too much time trying to manage. Spending more time focused on leading would allow us to achieve greater results and feel greater satisfaction from our efforts.

Leading is future and people oriented. It is creative rather than reactive. Most of us find that the more time we spend leading, the less time we need to spend managing. How satisfying would that be?

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Russell Dean
Russell Dean
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