Leading vs. Managing

March 19, 2018

Over lunch last week, one of my clients told me about the professional development work her leadership team has been doing together.  One topic which really resonated with me was understanding the difference between “leading” and “managing” a team.  The topic has been on my mind all week.  So, just for fun, I decided to look up the definition of each.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of Lead is to: “direct the operations, activity or performance of”; or “guide someone or something along the way”.

And the definition for Manage is to: “direct the professional career of”.

The difference is important.  To me, leading provides an upward and outward look.  Managing is more of a downward and inward look.

When a leader leads, they chart a course for the team, department, or organization.  A strong leader establishes and communicates direction with confidence.  In order to be successful, it is imperative for  the team to have a clear understanding of the overall objectives, so they can do their part to help achieve the desired outcomes.  A strong leader inspires people and motivates them to work towards a common goal.

When a leader manages, on the other hand, he or she provides direction and counsel to the individual.  It is the manager’s responsibility to ensure each team member knows his or her responsibilities and helps each person establish the appropriate goals and metrics.  In addition, the manager should provide on-going feedback as warranted – both positive and constructive.  Think back to your favorite manager or mentor.  What made them so good?  My guess is that he or she took the time to listen, praise, offer feedback as appropriate and gave you opportunities to succeed .

Neither role is easy.  When things get busy, we all have a tendency to revert to the roles in which we are most comfortable.  Particularly during these times, it is important to take a step back and make sure you are not only doing what is in the best interest of the organization, but what is also in the best interest of your team.  In the long run, it will benefit everyone – including you.