When To Lead, When To Manage

When should you lead and when should you manage?

This age-old question has been asked by many people on our programmes.

Our short answer is…it depends on the situation. Whether you show adequate leadership skills or display excellent management abilities will be determined by the results you are trying to achieve. Management and leadership are like different sides of the same coin, and it’s vital that you choose wisely, or you may be looking at the wrong side. Here’s some thoughts of how to differentiate between the two:

A manager thinks short term, tactically, a leader has a longer term, more strategic focus.

A manager plans how and when, a leader asks “what?” and “how?”

A manager looks at the bottom line, a leader looks to the horizon.

A manager knows the business, a leader knows the customer.

A manager focuses on improving existing products and processes, a leader focuses on the new product and the breakthrough process.

A manager supervises, a leader influences.

A manager builds success through quality, a leader builds success through employees.

A manager sets standards of performance, a leader sets new standards.

You can see that it’s mainly a case of what situation you are in before you choose to adopt a clear leadership style or whether you decide to manage the scenario. A rough guide would be that managers manage tasks and leaders lead people. If you have a report to complete by the end of the week, you manage the time, resources, equipment, planning, organisation and control of the project. You lead the people side of the project by motivating, communicating, giving feed-forward and feed-back, mentoring and coaching the staff who will be helping you achieve the results you are looking for.

Be careful not to mix up the two, though. Management is about planning, control and organisation. People don’t like to have their day planned or controlled for them. Set the results you want clearly and succinctly, then lead the people to achieve those results.

That way, you don’t confuse your people about expectations and objectives. Lead your people, manage your tasks, and everyone will know where they are.

Thanks again



Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training   

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Updated on: 13 September, 2010

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