Is it Better To Be a Manager or Leader?

As a student of leadership, I’ve been wrestling with a question for some time…

What’s the real difference between management and leadership?

Leadership has become such a glamorized word in our culture.  It feels so much nicer and more inspiring than the often derogatory connotation that comes with the word management.

But the longer I study great leaders, the more I’m convinced that you can’t be a great leader without being a great manager.

Sometimes I feel like today’s leaders want the glory of being known as a great leader without the hard work of management.

Great leaders are great managers.

Let’s take a minute to look at some definitions:

leadership – an act or instance of leading; guidance; direction

to lead:

  • to go before or with to show the way; conduct or escort
  • to conduct by holding and guiding
  • to influence or induce; cause
  • to guide in direction, course, action, opinion, etc.
  • to command or direct (an army or other large organization)
  • to go at the head of or in advance of (a procession, list, body, etc.)
  • a person who has control or direction of an institution, business, etc., or of a part, division, or phase of it.
  • a person who controls and manipulates resources and expenditures, as of a household.
to manage:
  • to bring about or succeed in accomplishing, sometimes despite difficulty or hardship
  • to take charge or care of
  • to handle, direct, govern, or control in action or use

Do you see the overlap and the complimentary themes?

Management is the method by which great leadership is executed.  The two go hand in hand.  Management is one of several important dimensions of leadership.

If you are trying to lead without the difficult work of management, you are going to find yourself floundering and frustrated.

Management takes a leader’s instincts and inspiration and puts action to it.

We’ve got to quit being afraid of management.  Management is the stewardship engine that drives leadership.

The eloquent use of management as an element of our leadership is a beautiful picture of influence as an art form.

How does the word management make you feel?

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  • Ebony May 29, 2013  

    Good stuff Jenni!! Sending it to my lead team!

  • Tessa May 31, 2013  

    When I hear the word “management” I think of micro-managers…which is not necessarily the correct use of the definition of a manager.

    • Jenni Catron June 3, 2013  

      Tessa, I think this is why people don’t like the world management because they think of micro-managers and control freaks. I personally think management needs a new PR campaign 🙂

  • Amy Jane Helmericks May 31, 2013  

    Oh my. When I hear “management” I hear details, and process, and steps, and delegation, and follow-through.

    “Management” is nothing in my strengths areas, which are more about ideas and inspiration and problem-solving (not so much the implementation…)

    Years ago (before I had children) I used to be told I was a “natural leader,” but since becoming buried in the details of “managing” my home, I’ve wondered how I can be a leader when these skills (which I agree are essential) are so demanding for me.

    • Jenni Catron June 3, 2013  

      Amy Jane, I totally understand! The management side of life can get overwhelming sometimes! Hang in there!

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  • Candice June 1, 2013  

    I personally feel that managing and leading are two totally different things. Managing is controlling and leading is guiding. A good leader does posses good management/administrative skills but should NOT ever control or manipulate those they are leading. Just my opinion! Thanks for asking the question.

    • Jenni Catron June 3, 2013  

      Candice, thanks for chiming in. I agree with you that a leader shouldn’t control or manipulate. However, I don’t think management by definition is control or manipulation. A leader or a manager can control or manipulate. Some of the worst leaders of history were controlling leaders – Herod the Great, Adolf Hitler, etc.

      I believe management is how you lead people to get stuff done. Another way to think about management is the word administration. Administration is a spiritual gift and is necessary to accomplish what God has called us to.

      Great conversation!

    • Jim Vasconcellos December 4, 2014  

      Well i completely disagree. If one does not measure and control, one can never be sure of one’s leadership effectiveness. Have you ever known any CEO who was not interested in the numbers? While they may be separate distinctions linguistically, they cannot exist without each other, and they never do in any person.

  • mc_painter June 13, 2013  

    I love this post and couldn’t agree more.

    The term “management” does, unfortunately, have a negative connotation in today’s world. However, when management is implemented effectively, it’s not controlling (in the negative sense) or manipulative.

    I think this statement is incredibly accurate: “Sometimes I feel like today’s leaders want the glory of being known as a great leader without the hard work of management.”

  • Jim Vasconcellos December 4, 2014  

    Perfectly said. I mean what leader would not be interested in measuring progress towards the vision? Thanks!