Management vs. leadership––What’s the real difference?

I’m frankly sick of this argument. I’m sick of writing about it and talking about it––we’ve got more important things to do!

Leadership and management are two distinct practices. Admiral Grace Hopper said it perfectly:

“You manage things; you lead people. We went overboard on management and forgot about leadership.”

And that’s the problem.

Management is about process––and that’s very important. Leadership is about people. It’s the art as much as the science of guiding, motivating and inspiring the people you serve to the highest levels of creativity, innovation and productivity.

The trick is getting organizations–-and dare I say their leaders—to pay attention to the people side of the equation. 

For the past 5 years we’ve polled leaders about the importance of human centered skills versus technical skills through our SL 15 Survey. The question we ask is: 

How important is emotional intelligence and inter-personal skill compared with the importance of intellectual intelligence, procedural knowledge and specific functional skills?  

The responses are amazingly consistent:

Nearly 80% say “soft” and “hard” skills are equally important. 

Nearly 20% say the soft or interpersonal skills are more important.

Less than 1% consider hard skills more important. 

But here’s the rub. When I share these results in my programs, usually the responses given by that specific group, I then ask, “How much time and training money is your organization committing specifically to these so-called soft skills you consider so important?”

The typical answer is little to none. And that can turn into a big, expensive problem. 

Part of the problem is the failure of “leadership development” today. According to a December 2017 report in Harvard Business Review, only 24% of companies surveyed are satisfied with their leadership development programs. 

It’s not that hard to figure out why! Most “leadership development” programs pay more attention to technical management than to genuine leadership. Too often these programs do a good job of preparing people for management, but do very little to prepare managers for leadership. 

Like any other area of your business, leadership requires a special focus. Teaching leadership requires a specialist. 

My sole focus is on leadership––or more accurately, on the leader. I deal only with the most essential and deeply human aspects of what it takes to be an effective and authentic leader. 

I work with the leader––as a person.

And I work to develop each person as a leader––regardless of rank, title or position of authority. We need genuine leaders at all levels, from the C-Suite to the front lines. 

Now I’m certainly not knocking my colleagues who focus on technical management. I agree with most of the people in our polls; I believe the hard skills and the soft skills require equal attention. I’ve just found that it keeps me busy enough to stay on top of the human side of what it takes to be a good leader. I’m glad to partner with you or other experts who are more interested in the technical side. 

So what, really, is the problem? Why don’t more organizations pay attention to training in emotional intelligence, personal development and interpersonal skills––the things they consistently tell us are most important÷

Most leaders tell me it’s a matter of time. 

They’re wrong. It doesn’t take all that much time––if you do it properly.

In my programs, you learn as you lead. I don’t like the hypothetical. Let’s work in real time on the real issues you’re facing––as you face them.

And for the deep, dark secret most leadership development experts don’t want to admit:

It’s not that complicated. 

By the 5th grade you learned most of what it takes to be an effective leader. The rest is constant practice and as I keep saying, continual self-awareness and improvement. 

What are you doing to express compassion, courage and wisdom? 

These are the core traits people expect from leaders.

What can you do today to earn, or continue to earn the respect, trust and loyalty of the people who count on your leadership?

That’s what you need to lead effectively. What can you possibly accomplish without the the respect, trust and loyalty of the people you serve?

Your effectiveness as a leader depends on how consistently you ask these questions––and how you answer them––continually.

This takes courage. It demands discipline. It requires humility. 

That’s what being an authentic leader is all about.

Jim Bouchard

Jim Bouchard

Jim Bouchard is an internationally recognized speaker, Leadership Activist, and founder of The SENSEI LEADER Movement™. He’s the author of 8 leadership books, and hosts Walking The Walk, a ... Web: Details