Managing Vs Leading

Managing Vs Leading



I remember my first work experience where I kept describing my supervisor as a leader. I remember his upset face while repeating that he was essentially a manager, not a leader. I remember acting ridiculously as if I did understand the difference between a leader and a manager. I remember using these words as twins. I remember associating management with leadership. I was wrong. However, this was a long time ago. Etymologically speaking, managing and leading had, from the beginning, two distinct meanings. According to the international dictionary Merriam-Webster, the word “manage” was first used in the middle of the 16th century based on the Latin word “manus” which means hand [1]. However, the word “lead” was first used long time before the word “manage”.  Lead, which is a verb based on the pure old English, was first used before the 12th century [2]. Furthermore, the same dictionary defines leading as “guiding on a way by going in advance” [2] whereas managing is defined as “exercising executive, administrative, and supervisory directions” [1]. If etymology is fair while distinguishing between leadership and management, what about real life? Do they represent similar skills? What does managing entail? What does leading really mean? What are the key differences between managing and leading? Do managers and leaders converge or diverge? Are they innate skills?

If a person is being followed by hundreds of thousands of people on Twitter, if you see that same person being followed by hundreds of thousands of people also on Facebook, if you see that the same person is always quoted by others, if you see that the same person is getting others to want to do something rather than forcing them to do it, know that this person is what we call a leader. A leader might not be as famous as described above, but a leader is absolutely making moves by taking right decisions while being on the front side guiding his/her followers [3].  Leading may guide a small or a huge community for what he/she thinks a better place and situation would be. Nevertheless, leading may be genuinely unproductive.  Leaders tend to be unique. One of the most known leaders in the world is Oprah Winfrey. Whatever Oprah says, Oprah is right. Her influence extends to all ages, races, and genders. Oprah innovates, talks to people, and gets their trust [4].   As a leader, Oprah does not have to give directions to her TV team, she does not have to focus on getting her team ready on stage before her show, and she does not have to give administrative orders [4].  As a leader, Oprah focuses on guiding people to follow her causes, and inspiring them to seek a change without supervising them to do so. If one has got a strong educational background and professional skills, one can not present Oprah’s show because one’s education is not sufficient. One should have the personality and charisma of Oprah. This is why; a leader cannot be replaced unless a better leader takes its place.

The good news about leadership is that it is not innate [7].  As stated in Cambridge journal, “Leadership is not an innate characteristic, but a complex suite of competencies, personal attributes and vision that requires development via education, exposure to work and issues, role modeling and mentoring with existing leaders” (RL Hughes, RC Ginnett, GJ Curphy).  To me, leading is an excellence. To me, excellence is a habit. Hence, leading is just a habit. By developing our knowledge via constant reading, by educating ourselves via constant discussions, by learning from our failures, by setting personal and professional objects, we can achieve the first requirement of leadership: being the leaders of ourselves. By being the leaders of ourselves, we have a natural charisma which helps us in motivating people, inspiring them, and influencing them. A person who have a PhD but who does not have charisma may not convince you as much as a normal person with a big charisma.

If you see a person directing dozens of people, if that very same person reminds you of a typical soldier, if you see that the same person is getting others to do something rather than getting them to want to do something, if you see that the same person is always doing things right, know that this person is what we call a manager. This person might be the one giving directions to Oprah’s team, getting them ready on stage before the show, giving administrative orders, and ensuring that everything is going alright. A manager may not inspire trust, may not innovate, may not focus on people, and may not focus on doing the right thing. A manager is a soldier that inspires authority, focus on mechanisms and doing things right [5]. One example of managers is a human resources (HR) manager. In general, the HR manager cannot innovate nor have followers. The HR manager focuses on giving administrative orders, and directions to ensure that the resources of corporations are working in an efficient manner. In general, the HR manager is not a model rather than a person with a set of skills and experiences necessary to get things done.  As leading, managing is not innate. Managing, though, has fewer requirements than leading. How? To be a manager is to be assigned by an authority. Thus, to be a manager is already enforced from the beginning. Managers generally have relevant working and educational experiences, but managing does not essentially require being a leader. Managing can be achieved only through direct operations, planning and organization. Thus, managing does not necessitate that your subordinates love to do what you ask them nor does it necessitate that you inspire them. I would say that managing is a skill that is acquired through time, and enough consistent experiences in doing things right.

Can a manager be a leader, or vice versa? Yes. Some would say that a good manager is a leader and some would say that a leader can have top managerial positions. It is what I call: the Leader-Manager combo. Figure 1 illustrates how leaderships can converge with management.



Figure1: Leader-Manager Combo (Source: My Creation)

The leading-managing type of person tends to be a perfect solution for any corporation. It is a profile gathering motivating workers, making them want to do their work and organizing the way they do their work. It is an ideal profile, isn’t it? Steve Lohr reported in the New York Times newspaper how apple succeeded in “making innovation a managed system, a machine like” [6]. Indeed, Steve Jobs was one example of a top leader-manager. He successfully coupled organization of Apple’s product line, contributing and planning with best teams using his vision and pro-activeness [7]. Nowadays, people do not like to be managed like machines rather than being led by a leader. Nowadays, people want to feel recognition from managers, which in turn, want to have the same recognition from their hierarchy. Nowadays, managing is not sufficient for the success of businesses which need strong leadership skills. You cannot sell a product outside if you cannot do it inside. Nowadays, leading is not sufficient for the success of businesses which need strong management skills in order to accomplish its financial success. You cannot promote for a product before ensuring its feasibility. Hence, a leader-manager profile is the type to adopt in small, medium or big corporations. Leaders-managers profiles that use the qualities that are present in these two distinct fields, gather them, and unify them as one unit. Leading and managing can actually converge to reach our objectives.

By: Othmane Benkirane.





[1] Definition of the word manage, Merriam Webster Dictionary

[2] Definition of the word lead, Merriam Webster Dictionary

[3] “Force the change: How Leadership Differs from Management”, by John P. Kotter. click here

[4] “How to lead like Oprah Winfrey”, by Rachael Ray, Forbes Magazine                                                       

[5] “Apple and I.B.M. Aren’t All That Different”, by Steve Lohr.                                     

[6] “10 leadership tips from Steve Jobs”, by Susan Kalla.                                                                                

[7] Cambridge University Press, by RL Hughes, RC Ginnett, GJ Curphy