There’s a lot of confusion about leadership and management today.
One person says leadership is this, another that. One person says management is this, another that. Some compare them one way, some a different way.
Then you have the leadership vs. management clichés, memes, and infographics that try to compare both of them, usually with leaders being angels with halos and managers as evil and terrible.
They are often popular because many people have had bad managers, and they see their bad managers in the graphics.
The problem is that the clichés and memes are generally wrong, and they hurt us instead of helping. If we want better leaders and managers in our world, we need to start looking at it correctly.
First, what is leadership and management, really?
We are where we are today with leadership (with nearly 80% of employees not engaged at work) partly because of the confusion mentioned above. Many really don’t understand what leadership and management is, so people practice poor leadership thinking it is correct.
Not only that, but it also gets even worse when people start thinking leadership is about themselves or whatever they want it to be.
Because of that, it’s important that we look at what leadership and management really is, and the difference between the two.
What is leadership?
Leadership is the process of guiding others through influence toward the accomplishment of a goal (you can learn more in this article here).
What is the difference between leadership and management?
The best explanation for the difference between leadership and management that I’ve seen comes from Julie Zhou’s book The Making of a Manager. In it she says (to paraphrase):
Leadership is a skill, management is a position. You don’t need a position to be a leader, but you can’t be a good manager without also being a good leader.
Leadership is guiding people through influence toward a goal, and it’s a skill that you can learn. A position isn’t required to lead. You can lead without a position and from any position.
Management is a position, and you can’t be a manager without being hired for that position. It’s made up of set functions (which may depend on the level of management, the company, the industry, etc.) that you must do, such as hiring, planning, training, etc.
However, to be an effective manager, you must also be an effective leader.
Does all of that make sense?
One of the big reasons we have leadership vs. management clichés and memes is that people don’t realize what leadership is, how important it is, and that managers need leadership skills.
Because of that, many are put into management positions just assuming they will be able to do the job, and they aren’t’ training on how to lead.
That’s one of the big reasons we have so many bad bosses.
So what are the dangers of these clichés, and how do they get it wrong?
First, they continue the misrepresentation and confusion about leadership and management
They are a danger because they misrepresent leadership and management. They hurt management especially because they always show management as evil.
Management is an important function and position. It’s just that, as we mentioned, many aren’t trained well.
The memes can also oversimplify both of them (and incorrectly at that) but they also can make it very binary – one or the other. You are either an incredible angel of a leader or a horrible evil manager.
There’s no middle ground in it.
It also makes many of the things on the list as you should or can only do one of them – instead of both.
For example, one common phrase is “Managers focus on doing things right, but leaders focus on doing the right thing” (Remember, you are supposed to oooh and ahhhh when reading that ;).
The thing is, you need both of those! You need to make sure you are doing the right thing, but you also need to make sure you are doing the right thing right. It’s not one or the other.
If you base your view on managers and leaders based on these infographics and memes, you will have a skewed view of both leadership and management.
It may make you feel good, but it does nothing to actually help you.
Reading these may make you feel good. I mean, you’ve likely had bad bosses. When looking at the infographics, you may rail and blast and say “Ah ha you bad boss, that’s what you were.”
And then you can ooh and ahh about how great “leaders” are.
However, doing that does nothing to improve you as a leader or help the leadership situation. In fact, some may feel they are helping by sending these memes, but, as we said, it could be hurting more than helping.
When we focus on these memes and infographics, we are staying on the surface level instead of diving toward the deeper issues that we need to solve (and into what leadership and management really are).
It hurts the perception of management
As mentioned earlier, if you pay attention to the cliches and memes, you will think that management is evil, that they are short-sighted, micromanagers, and so on. According to the memes, that EQUALS management.
And that’s just wrong.
As we said earlier, management is a necessary function, and a big reason why we have bad managers is that people don’t realize managers need leadership skills and aren’t trained (or trained well).
If people base management on these memes, it helps perpetuate the wrong mentality and hurts people’s perception of what management is and does.
And that’s not helpful.
It hurts your ability to lead and manage
Another problem is that when you view these as the difference between leadership and management, if you see that as what leadership and management are, it can hurt the way you manage and lead because you have the wrong perception of what leadership and management are.
When you have the wrong perceptions, then you base your actions based off of those perceptions, and it makes you less effective.
What we should do instead
First, we need to ditch the leadership versus management memes. Let’s stop promoting and liking them. They aren’t helpful.
Then, let’s really take some time to look at what makes good leaders. It’s not your style or preferences or strengths, it’s principles. If you notice, very few of the great leadership books even mention leadership styles or the need to know your preferences and so on. They focus on the principles that make great leaders.
We need to remember, too, that leadership is like any other skill – it takes time and practice to learn. You aren’t just going to read a wonderful blog post and be an amazing leader. It’s a process that takes time.
Let’s also stop treating management as evil and start giving managers good, quality training on the principles that make great leaders. Make it an ongoing process, not a one-time one-and-done training. It doesn’t need to be training on finding one’s styles or strengths but on principles.
I also encourage you to avoid the leadership graphics and posts on LinkedIn, etc. (except for ours, of course, ????) and focus on reading great books and ingesting other content that really teaches what great leadership truly is.
A next great article to read is: Why “Just Be Yourself” Is Bad Advice for Leaders