I have been hearing these two nebulous terms since I stepped in to my academic life and professional career. Some would define leader as a person who creates the vision as appose to a manager who implements tasks to achieve that vision. Colleagues working in the specific functional domains of an organization would limit the application of these concepts to their value contribution, scale, results and impact. Yet there are plenty of others who culminate their distinction within the parameters of job titles, level of seniority and roles and responsibilities. A notional consensus among the later genre of people exist that the head of an institution is “leader” because he/she gives direction to the rest of the team; the middle layer of the management is pushing forward the day-to-day activities in an organized way and are thus labeled as managers and finally the implementer bears non-of these titles because they only execute task. But if we try to ponder for a while and get a better understanding of the attributes and characteristics around leadership and management, we will face the fact that even the president of a state can be a manager while the last-mile executor can still play the role of leader within a specific context.
I think that the dichotomy of management & leadership on the bases of assigned roles isn’t fair, or just because one is meant to make decisions does not make him/her a leader. It is not only about the status or position that drives this distinction, but about Who You Are, and How You Come Across to address issues and situations. The Who You Are, part is more related to your own beliefs, emotions, thoughts and assumptions, which means the person inside you and the How you Come Across any scenario, is actually your day-to-day choices – the priorities you select, the communication you do with others, the behaviors you choose to express, and the decisions you make in your daily professional and personal life.
To simplify this polarity, I want to sate that leadership is all about Doing The Right Thing and management is about Doing Things The Right Way. I want to lean on the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) definition for PROJECT – “A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service”. Almost anything we do in our daily lives, can be considered as a project (they can be small or big in size) – it has definitive beginning and an end and therefore defined scope and resources whether it’s a job-search, a strategy/policy development, a fundraising effort, or a diplomatic undertaking. Among many other things, successful endeavors lean on a set of required talent and skills-set.
In today’s world, complexity in projects has increased; uncertainties have exponentially raised, stakeholders’ competing interests have unveiled newer risks and market dynamics have been enduringly evolving. To increase the chances of successful any endeavors, global leaders and industry experts working in the project management field suggest three major buckets of required skills set – also known as the “Talent Triangle”. I think it is a great resource to consider for a conceptual discussion and will perhaps assist in drawing a line between Leadership and Management.
Within above framing:
- If an individual follows some processes and best practices to the best of his/her knowledge and abilities to “Administer” in carrying out some tasks is “Management”; Regardless of one’s position or role, as long as implementer can manage his/her time, organize outlined work, and complete tasks as planned – he/she is performing the role of a manager. However, introducing “Innovative” concepts, designs and practices to improve efficiency and address complexities would be manifestation of “Leadership”;
- The use of direct positional power to conduct a task elicits a “Management” capability while giving guidance to team members, and collaborating and influencing various stakeholders would be a leadership skill;
- Focusing to achieve short-term goals is “Management” but considering long-range vision in to account would fall under “Leadership”;
- Another attribute that can distinguish among the concepts of management and leadership is "Comfort Zone" and this is something that everyone loves because we are all very much comfortable within that zone. Accepting the status-quo and flowing with stream would be an example of “Management” But challenging the status-quo and exiting your comfort zone to explore approaches to address issues is “Leadership”;
- “Management” is about focusing on the details and bottom line of actions and therefore seeks to address the instructional How and When of activities while because “Leadership” focuses on the horizon and hence digs an extra step to answer the What and Why of interventions.
We can go on and on and use several other attributes to draw this conceptual distinction between management and leadership but in the center of everything discussed above, the ultimate focus is around “Decision Making” – Everyone makes decisions in their personal matters and professional work on daily basis. There are different parameters (priority, value proposition, risk/benefit analysis, time, precedence, etc.) that one can take into account when making more appropriate and informed decisions. There is no defined standard for making decisions; one can dive in the selection of a path based on several factors and contexts. So as long as that “Decision Making” is feeding the “Doing Right Things” for the benefit of interventions, constituents or any goal/vision/objective, It is leadership and “Doing Things the Right Way” to achieve the decisions made is “Management”.
To conclude, I think both of these skills can be practiced and applied by any individual, at any level and at any avenue regardless of the person’s position, role or responsibility.