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Leadership and management are different but indispensable capabilities that are not inferior or superior to each other. We can manage processes, projects, and programs; we should lead people. The notion of “managing” people can be unrealistic. While many executives play both roles of leadership and management, it is important to understand the distinctions of these competencies.
Business schools teach that management is overseeing, directing, handling, or controlling. Most of us would resent anyone doing any of these things to us. On the other hand, schools teach that leadership is mentoring, coaching, influencing, and developing people. The difference is significant. If experts blur the lines, so will executives and managers. This faulty perspective is stunting the progress of many careers and hampering the success of countless organizations.
Some dynamic managers are incompetent leaders, and some fantastic leaders are sorry managers. This is all too possible because these abilities call for different skill sets. When looking for someone who is competent with both, hiring managers need to spell out what that will look like, develop a position description, and ask interview questions accordingly.
A manager may or may not have a staff because she is managing a project or budget. In this case, a thing is being handled or directed. The people involved should be — and desire to be — guided, not handled. A leader does not necessarily have people who answer to him, but they have to be within his sphere of influence. Leaders can mentor and guide employees, partners, and even higher level staff. Leadership happens at every level throughout an organization.
The goal of leadership is to spur normal people to attain superior results. It is to develop problem solving and critical thinking skills and create an environment within which followers put these skills into practice and have a say in decision making. Leadership is not based on position but the ability to motivate those around you to perform and become greater.
The concept of a growing knowledge workforce stems from the premise of leaders developing other leaders and drawing from the talent pool within their reach of influence — be it beneath, across, or above their positions. However, attempting to manage people strips them of their power to choose and contribute, forfeiting much the knowledge and experience that you hired them for. Manage things, but lead people.