The Difference between Leadership and Management


While we still argue the difference between management and leadership, for me, It's relatively simple. Management is understanding the complexity of any job. It's making things go around, making things work, making sure that things are what they are supposed to be. That we follow certain rules and structures that we are required to, to make the product, to sell the thing, to teach the kids, to serve our clients. And ultimately, to make a profit or to achieve our organisation's goals.

However, leadership is understanding how change works. Understanding how people need to be and be supported to produce the thing. Understanding what needs to be different, what needs to change, and what needs to be adapted or modified in our processes and procedures. Its how we manage in order to get the best out of our people, but also the best out of our processes.

Leadership is often a conscious understanding of when a change needs to happen and how change needs to happen. It's understanding how to bring people along in the change process. I also believe the key to good leadership is understanding which changes are necessary, which change is going to add value, and what changes are just the shiny object or the next big thing that could get in the way of meeting the organisational goals. Leadership is also understanding that in order to change, there is always a period of transition when it is uncomfortable, where people are feeling vulnerable when the thing that they've always done, they are no longer able to do.

This is a very scary and difficult place for a lot of people.  

As humans, we habituate to the things that we've always done, we are invested in our ways of doing things. We have often spent invested may years studying to do things a certain way for them. Often our ego and self worth is tied up in them.

When we are forced to change, we go from doing what we've been doing - breaking the habits of many years - stepping into that spot that is uncomfortable and ambiguous, where things aren't 100% clear, and where we're having to stretch, and move and think in ways that are really unfamiliar to us.

So, the leader’s job is to support the people that they lead through this change process. To understand this vulnerability and this difficulty and to help explain the ambiguity. They too need to lean into the discomfort and say,

“Look, I don't know the answers, but we're going to work them out together. I'm going to support you to be the best that you can be, but I'm also going to hold you accountable for moving forward.”

I think, therefore,  a leaders ultimate responsibility is to set the direction of the change, to articulate the big picture and the big vision for the organisation, but also for the people within it.


These are my expectations. This is what I see for the future. This is how the future perfect looks like. And between us, we are going to move closer to that ideal reality.

The other thing that Leaders needs to do is articulate that change is not linear. The first part of any change is to take a small step in the direction of the preferred vision. After taking this small step, think to yourself, are we closer to where we want to be? And if so, take another small step in that direction. And again, are we getting closer to where we want to be? Not, are we feeling comfortable, but are we heading in the direction of the change? And if the answer is “yes”, then proceed. And if the answer is “no, this is not getting us to where we want to be”, then pivot or change,  moving in a slightly different direction. That's the notion of Agile Leadership, where things aren't necessarily certain, except the thing in front of you. And in that, help people to understand that vision is about progress, and not perfect. Especially for those who really need to know that things are certain, that things are stable, that things are predictable. Leaders need to help people see the big picture so that they can not only see the big picture but feel safe to take the small step actions required to move closer to the vision.

So what is the difference between leadership and management? Management is managing the processes, managing people, managing the complexity. But leadership is setting that big-picture, forward-thinking vision, making it clear, making it inspiring, making it desirable, and then supporting the people they lead to take the steps that are required to get to that ultimate vision.

That sounds really easy but it's not. There are different styles of leadership that you can employ, different ways that you can do that. But, understanding that ultimately the role of the leader is to inspire people towards a more preferred future and support them to do that.

What do you think the role of the leader is?

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Hello there! I am Jenny Cole - Coach, Consultant and Cheerleader. I work with women to create careers,  workplaces and lives that allow them to flourish.

I love nothing better than watching smart, capable but overwhelmed women step confidently into their best self and truly succeed.

I am endlessly curious with two successful businesses behind me. My blog shares what I see, what I know and random musings.

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