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Managing and leading aren't the same thing. Here's why it matters

It seems like every up-and-coming professional aspires to being a leader, but don't make the mistake of thinking managers aren't just as important.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
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Image: Getty Images / iStockphoto

If you're an effective manager, then you might get to become a leader one day – that's how most people think of the difference between leadership and management.

Harvard Business Review says managers control things while leaders influence people. Who'd want to be a manager – with their focus on day-to-day processes – when you could be a leader who's engaging with stakeholders and helping to establish where the business is going to go next?

However, professionals shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that leadership is the only senior job title worth holding. Five experts explain the key differences between leaders and managers, offering advice to up-and-coming professionals on how to exceed in the senior roles they take on.

Great managers shouldn't be underrated

While everyone remembers a great leader, Jaspreet Singh, CEO and founder of software firm Druva, says it's crucial not to underrate managers – which is something that's too common in modern business. 

"I sincerely feel that people have created a bad reputation for managers," he says. "Nobody wants to be called a manager. The good junior person starting at a company wants to be known as a leader from day one."

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Singh says acquiring leadership skills takes time and it involves owning something important in a company.

"In a tech environment, it could be an initiative, it could be an agenda, it could be a team. A leader takes initiative and delivers an outcome. How they reach that goal is all about leadership principles, which vary by environment and by the task at hand." 

Singh says managers take responsibility for overseeing a set of resources efficiently. In his business, management is often about making the most of human resources and fostering a strong and purposeful team.

"A manager of people understands how to bring a team together," he says. "How do you assemble a team, where do you hire people, what's the ideal profile, how do you enable them, how do you deal with conflict resolution, and how do you ensure empowerment and the education and the retraining of individuals?"

Helpful managers ensure team members don't sink

Gerardo del Guercio, solutions architect at Prostate Cancer UK, says effective management is about making sure you don't ask people on your team to do something you wouldn't do yourself. 

"If you get that respect, you create a real team and you're not just a delegator," he says. "As a manager, I want good people underneath me. I'm not threatened by good people underneath me. I want to teach them." 

As an experienced manager, del Guercio enjoys putting into practice many of the techniques that he's acquired during his time in the technology industry. 

He says IT management often involves using similar systems from one industry to another. People management, however, involves subtle variations, which depends on the context you find and the individuals you're trying to develop. 

"What I enjoy about management is building the team around the activity that's required. I warn my students that they will feel the pressure. They might even feel like they're sinking sometimes," says del Guercio.

"My job is to make sure they've got straw beneath them and to make sure they bounce. If you're not learning, then you're in the wrong place. When you stop learning then you need to move on."

Effective managers and leaders have key roles to play

Bev White, CEO at recruiter Nash Squared, says management is often about the delivery and the expectation of delivery against a common set of resources.

"When you're a manager, you're given a toolkit – these are the things I need to control. These are my boundaries. These are the people I need to be aware of. I need to manage resources."

White says leadership, on the other hand, is a wholly different thing – and it's focused on the ability to inspire people to go beyond what they're doing today.

"It's about making people want to stay with your organization and to feel really motivated and valued," she says. "And that's about understanding the dynamics of the team you've got and what their requirements are today." 

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While White says being an effective leader often involves some common characteristics, she also says it's important to recognize that the nature of leadership will continue to evolve.

"They are multiple generations in the workplace," she says. "We can't have a one-size-fits-all approach to communication and our leadership styles have got to develop as the generations change in our workplace."

Smart leaders establish the right culture

Ed Higgs, group director of IT shared services at Rentokil Initial, says there's a sharp difference between management and leadership. One is focused on direction while the other is centered on inspiration.

"Management is all about telling people what to do and how to do it. And, in some instances, you will need to do that," he says. "Leadership is about creating the right culture, where people are empowered to deliver what they need to deliver."

Higgs believes in giving as much power as possible to people who are responsible for areas of the business.

"My team makes decisions and we're very hot on service ownership," he says. "So, if someone comes to me with an idea – and if they are the allotted service owner – then I need to have a very good reason why I wouldn't listen to what they say."

Higgs engages with these service owners and then sells the ideas that his people generate to senior stakeholders in the organization.

"For me, leadership is not about telling people what to do," he says. "I represent 80 people in my team. I represent them when I go to the board and the decisions get made." 

Successful leaders set the direction of future travel

Andy Pocock, IT director at TrustFord, says management is about looking after existing processes while leadership is centered on establishing a clear direction for future travel. 

"In very simple terms, it's about looking forward," he says. 

"It's about creating a strategy, looking at and interpreting trends, and then leading people in the direction that you want them to go. My leadership is about making sure my team can deliver against the long-term IT and business strategy."

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Pocock says successful leadership in his own business usually involves leading by example. 

"Establishing the right behaviors, the right attitude and the right approach that really sets a great example to everyone else." 

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