How to manage your leadership and how to lead your manager

Artist Will Cotton
Artist Will Cotton

A client recently asked me how I would explain the difference between “management” and “leadership.” It’s a question that Barry Posner and I are frequently asked, and it may also be a topic of conversation in organizations in which you work. My client found the following observations useful. I hope you do, too.

  1. When you look up ???manage??? and ???lead??? in the etymological dictionary, you???ll note that the words have very different root origins. Manage, as well as management and manager, derive from the root word ???manus,??? meaning ???the hand.???  (Interestingly, the words ???command??? and ???demand??? also come from that same root.)  There is a clear connection between managing and handling or controlling things. The words ???lead,??? ???leader,??? and ???leadership,??? on the other hand, share as their common root the word ???to go.??? Leading, at its roots, is about going places, about movement, and about guiding. I especially like the second definition in Merriam-Webster Unabridged which reads, “to guide on a way: show by going with or in advance of.”  I often ask people to reflect on the differences between the two concepts by thinking about the differences between handling things and going places.  People get the distinction pretty quickly.
  2. In the classic management literature, the functions of management are frequently described as ???plan, organize, staff, direct, and control.???  Contrast these with our Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership described in our book, The Leadership Challenge???Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. (Other leadership models may use other terms, but the descriptions are quite similar.)  Management is much more about the practices that get existing things to run efficiently and effectively. Leadership practices are about changing the way things are and creating new futures.
  3. All managers must be leaders, but not all leaders must be managers. There are a lot of leaders ??? scout leaders, community leaders, teachers, coaches, parents, athletic team leaders, club leaders, etc. ??? who aren???t in managerial positions. Most universities, for example, now offer a number of student leadership development programs, but they don???t offer management development programs to those same students.

There may be other distinctions that come to mind for you. Please let us know what you think.

One note of caution: While it’s useful for a number of reasons to illustrate the differences between leading and managing, we also need to stress that both are important. Organizations need managers, and they need them to be the best they can be at the fundamentals of “handling” things. We need both exemplary managers and exemplary leaders. The importance of making the distinction is to draw attention to the fact that there are a lot more people who can exercise leadership than those in formal management positions. In fact, we’d maintain that the very best organizations liberate the leader in everyone.

Posted by: Jim Kouzes


Once the difference wad doing things right or doing the right things. In my opinion leaders connect to a context and act!. Do you agree?

Artist Will Cotton
Artist Will Cotton