Managing vs. Leading

Managing vs Leading

The most important resource in any organisation is its people. Knowing how to lead and manage this resource is more challenging than any other resource available; be you a cleaning agency, stocking up on bleach and buckets or Nasa, shipping plutonium and studying the planets.

During a recent talk in Manchester at a Service Desk Institute Event focusing on “Leading from the front”, I shared the below observations on management versus leadership.

I started by asking the question…

Q. How many of you here today are in a position of leadership within your current organisation right now?

I would estimate over 80% of the room raised their hands. I followed up with;

Q. How many with your hands raised are managers by title?

Again, approximately 80% of the attendees who had identified themselves as being in a position of leadership were also managers by title.

“What’s in a name?”

Many organisations fail to correctly identify the difference between a manager and a leader. I’ve observed numerous organisations tending to assign “team leaders” as being responsible for “managing the day to day running” of business as usual and “department managers” the task of providing “direction and vision”.

It’s all about focus! The primary difference between managers and leaders can be found in the 80/20 rule:


The role of a manager should focus 80% of it’s time on the immediate and 20% on the future.

Managers are primarily responsible for managing the day to day business; what’s happening now and communicating this with their staff but also being informed of what changes are coming around the corner and managing this transitioning through further communication to their staff to ensure the “new norm” of day to day business is maintained.


The role of the leader is to focus 80% of their time on the future and 20% on the immediate.

Leaders are primarily accountable for casting the vision, asking questions like; what is tomorrow going to look like for the business in one, five, twenty years time and how are we going to get there? Their thoughts are of Continual Improvement; something can always be done more effectively (better) and more efficiently (faster/cheaper). The leader’s role is in quantifying this, ensuring appropriate Consultation takes place and Informing those Responsible for implementing the changes required. Ideally leaders should only get involved in the day to day running when problems occur outside the tolerances communicated to their managers – good leadership applies the PRINCE2 principle of “Manage by Exception”.

Moving forward:

If we wish to have an organisation with better leadership and management, we surly must start by identifying a clear leadership and management structure; how about we start to name our roles and positions in line with what we actually do?

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