Mar 26 2013

OK, so I’m not the first & definitely wont be the last to discuss the differences between Managers & Leaders. Peter Drucker’s quote about managers doing things right and leaders doing the right thing is probably one of the most well known quotes & in my view it is an accurate depiction of the difference, at least one of the differences. However, I’m planning on taking a slightly different take on the difference. Mine is more about what the words actually mean and hence, what their usage should engender in our minds.

The online etymology dictionary provides the below explanation of the roots of the word manage as:

“1560s, probably from Italian maneggiare “to handle,” especially “to control a horse,” ultimately from Latin noun manus “hand”…Slang sense of “get by” first recorded 1650s.

The online dictionary defines manage as

1. to bring about or succeed in accomplishing, sometimes despite difficulty or hardship

2. to take charge or care of

3. to dominate or influence (a person) by tact, flattery, or artifice

4. to handle, direct, govern, or control in action or use

On the other hand, we have the etymology of Lead:

“to guide,” Old English lædan “cause to go with one, lead, guide, conduct, carry; sprout forth; bring forth

And the definition of Lead

1. to go before or with to show the way; conduct or escort

2. to conduct by holding and guiding

3. to influence or induce; cause

4. to guide in direction, course, action, opinion, etc.

At first glance one may think they are equal, or at least similar. For me the difference, although somewhat subtle, is fairly obvious. Managing is about maintaining, about controlling and keeping things “in control”, maintaining the status quo. Leading is about taking people on a journey, somewhere new. Guiding them to do something new or go somewhere they haven’t gone before.

So the question is, are you managing to maintain things as they are, or are you moving forward, taking your team, your operation to somewhere it hasn’t been before. Managing to me is standing still, since business doesn’t stand still, and the world is constantly in flux, changing and moving forward, leaders are needed to, at a minimum keep up, ideally they’re the ones guiding us, showing us the way to go. Which one are you?

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(3) Readers Comments


  1. Stewart
    March 26, 2013 at 11:28 PM

    When I see Manager and Leader, I see 'Hard skill' inclined and 'Soft skill' inclined. To me the manager is the plan the resource the 'Hard' part of the journey. The Leader is the hearts and minds, the scene setter the one who will make the team compelled to follow, the 'Soft' part of the journey. Not that the Manager can't do this or vice versa. Could there be debate on Manager v Leader, or Manager & Leader? Good article, food for thought

    • ch53ecc
      March 26, 2013 at 11:39 PM

      I can see your angle, and I wouldn't necessarily disagree with it. I am not suggesting that people can't do both, to me it is more about what they do, then who they are. Some will be more inclined to manage, others to lead. Some are happy maintaining or delivering against an objective or plan, while others prefer to set the direction and guide people to something/somewhere new. There are plenty of debates on the subject, I don't think there is an overall right answer, so maybe a dialectic is a better description...thanks for the feedback! Cordell

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