I am often asked about what is my personal differentiation between management and leadership, and while I believe that a lot of this current discussion on this topic is something to keep academics and consultants busy, I do believe that there is a difference.

Some time ago someone said to me that the difference was that “We lead people and manage things”, and whilst this is simple to say, it is only because it is for simple minds, as I believe that it is wrong.

I believe that in reality we both lead and manage people.

Peter Drucker comes closer when he says “Leadership is doing the right thing, management is doing things right”, but whilst I am a rabid devotee of Drucker, I believe that this too is not enough.

Leadership being doing the right thing involves setting a direction for the future, ensuring that the resources and the culture (behaviours) are aligned with the needed end goals, identifying what has to be changed and how do we go about driving this change.

Once this is done management, being doing things right, then has the role of making this happen against the objectives that have been set and are cascaded through the organisation.

The issue is that I do not believe that this can be as clearly defined or delineated as much discussion, particularly over the last 10 years, tends to imply. Both capabilities are critical for a successful executive and trying to suggest that the CEO needs to be a leader and his direct reports need to be managers, misses the point that they all need to be both at different times.

Too many people confuse being a wonderful, fluent, charismatic and inspiring speaker with being a great leader. I believe that this is the main reason that electorates become quickly disillusioned with elected representatives, whether this is as President of the US or as Lord Mayor of North Sydney. We tend to be attracted to elect people that have the ability to “sing to our hearts” through words and presentation, or just animal charisma and image, with little ability to test whether they actually have the skills to run a national cabinet of ministers or a group of city councillors. Arnold Schwarzenegger won public support for his run for Governor of California because people wanted to believe that his on screen tough-guy persona was the reality of the man needed to slay the state’s budget deficit dragon of the past decade … after all he had done tougher things as “Conan the Barbarian” . The “Governator” recently had to step down with an increased budget deficit of around $ 20 billion that he had had little success in denting, let alone banishing it forever to Cimmeria.

by Photographer Mate 3rd Class Stefanie Broughton; via Wikimedia Commons

The problem is that the skills needed to win elections are not necessarily those that are needed to run a business enterprise whether this is a country, a city council or a corporation. The needed skills are a blend of great leadership and great management.

Source: Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, 1964; via Wikipedia

Being able to build a compelling, well articulated vision without an ability to execute, is actually worse than having a lesser strategy that can be well executed, though you have to be careful that you are not like the 2 blind men hurrying down the street with absolutely no idea of where they are going, but content in the belief that they are making good time.

Source: Lee McLaughlin, Author: Lee McLaughlin, Date=1973-07-03, Permission=© Lee Mclaughlin

Good leaders with little management skills are hoping that the management capability of those below them will ensure successful execution, whilst great managers with little leadership skills create an organisation with good logistics and little excitement. I worked for one CEO who believed that everything in business could be encapsulated in mathematical formulae, and he built his strategies on this premise. He would then not cascade the strategy too much as he had an inherent fear that if his competitors discovered his magic equations they could outmanoeuvre him.

Great leaders need to also be great managers and vice versa, and seeking to separate them for the sake of academic discussion does them both a disservice.



  1. Frank says:

    I’m in total agreement, one without the other is “ying without yang”, true outcomes will not be in balance.
    Well and simply stated. Regards, Frank

  2. Enrico Negroni says:

    One of the increasing risks we are facing is to get as “leader” people coming from media.
    If Schwarzenegger could be one case, Berlusconi is another one in which leadership, or, better, enablement to lead, is supported by media control and undisputed richness.
    To get tycoon as “leaders” is one of the threat we should face, because (and Berlusconi is confirming this with facts) it will not be any longer the question if doing or not right things. It will just be doing the best things for themselves !


    • leshayman says:

      I agree… it is amazing that we believe that movie and TV celebrities can do more than just act.
      The sad thing about politics is that the amount of money needed for a serious campaign is now so large that it cuts out all but the very wealthy as candidates.

  3. Ramakrishna says:

    Fully agree with you, Les.
    One need to be a leader to create a vision & excitement, get the buy-in from the team and jump in with them to execute the vision. You have to be in the front line to create that excitement in execution as well.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for this. It is a distinction I always struggle with, and I can see mylf coming back to this post for clarity. I totally agree that managers and leaders need both, perhaps the proportions change as you go higher up the hierarchy.

  5. leshayman says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    The proportions do change somewhat as you climb, but they mainly change based on the circumstances and the skills needed to address them at the time.

  6. Heinz Roggenkemper says:

    I think that your Drucker quote does not do him justice. Here is how Jim Collins summarized Drucker’s position: “The very best leaders are first and foremost effective managers. Those who seek to lead but fail to manage will become either irrelevant or dangerous, not only to their organizations, but to society.”


  7. leshayman says:

    Hi Heinz,
    Thanks for this … If Jim Collins is right in his summary, it reinforces my positive views of Drucker.

  8. Heinz Roggenkemper says:

    the quote is from his introduction to the revised edition of Drucker book ‘Management’, so I am willing to give him the benefit the doubt. (I will know 10 days from now.)
    Personally I was very impressed by Drucker’s take on innovation (Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 1985). If there is a better book on the topic, then I do not know it – and I have looked hard.

  9. leshayman says:

    I agree with you totally on Drucker and Innovation.
    i still use his definitions of Innovation (basically “hard focussed work” rather than just “genius and hope”), and the importance of “company culture”, when I speak on fostering innovation.

  10. Murali says:

    So the CEO who was the formula secretive guy. Did his stint go well. What should we learn from this.

  11. leshayman says:

    The numbers were Ok in his first few years, but by the time he retired he handed over a company struggling to succeed. We should learn that in any company the people are the “real” asset, and should not be thought of as you would a piece of plant and equipment. A company ultimately is just the sum of its people, being staff, customers, partners, investors.

  12. Some good things on the blog – and I love the references to famous leaders etc. Makes it “real”. But I always get a little dissapointed by these “management” blogs, where there is never any room for the downside…

    Way too optimistic in my view – let’s get a bit more real….


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