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The Important Difference Between Leadership and Management

How to achieve optimal results by understanding and embracing these distinct disciplines.

In working with integrators all over the country, I meet every day with company owners and leaders who are looking to drive meaningful change in their organizations. During these conversations, I often find that the terms “leadership” and “management” are used interchangeably. In fact, there are critical differences between these two disciplines. Understanding the distinction is key, especially for forward-thinking businesses who are looking for ways to get ahead of the competition in today’s dynamic market. Here’s how you can leverage a better understanding of these distinct, but equally important, disciplines to drive your business forward.

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Management vs. Leadership
Generally speaking, management is about working within a set of systems and processes designed to address the day-to-day challenges of your business. Budgeting, payroll, sales forecasting, project management, and scheduling are a handful of examples. Each one of these disciplines involve a well-defined set of steps needed to arrive at a desirable outcome. Implementing, maintaining, and executing these processes are what management is all about.

In search of improved results and lower costs, good managers continually seek ways to optimize the processes and systems that make your company run day in and day out. This is a critical component of effective management and should not be underestimated in terms of both its difficulty and importance to the organization. However, it is also important to recognize that successful management is largely defined by its ability to achieve desirable and consistent results within an existing framework. If you are looking to drive change in your company, management must be paired with leadership.

In contrast to management, which is about working with defined systems and processes, leadership is about creating a vision for the future. What does success for your company look like one, three, and five years out? What beliefs and behaviors are needed in your organization in order to achieve these results? And how can you create the sense of urgency needed to inspire your team to buy into the vision and push beyond their comfort zone to affect meaningful change? Answering these difficult questions is the name of the game when it comes to effective leadership.

You Need Both
It is easy to see that a combination of visionary leadership and effective management is vital to the long-term success of any business. Yet many companies fail to grasp the critical distinction between the two disciplines, much less put the effort into to cultivating both within their company. This results in a dangerous imbalance.

Without adequate leadership, companies can easily stagnate, falling into a mechanical way of doing business that, while efficient, stifles innovation in the name of stability. Conversely, without proper management, businesses tend to lurch from one idea to the next, creating an atmosphere of perpetual chaos and uncertainty for both their employees and their customers.

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Know Your Role
To find the right balance, it’s important to remember that a visionary leader and an effective manager are rarely the same person. To be sure, some individuals can possess the traits of both. In most cases, however, you will need to find separate individuals to play these respective roles in your organization.

If you’re the owner or part of the senior leadership team in your company, make sure you are honest with yourself about where your strengths lie. If you tend to be a big-picture thinker who thrives on envisioning new ideas for your business, then look to others in your company to play the vital role in managing your change initiatives. If, on the other hand, you are driven by process and structure and love tinkering with systems to optimize efficiency, you should seek the visionary leadership needed to propel your company into the future from others.

In a small-to-medium sized business, finding this “yin to your yang” can be a real challenge. However, it is critical to your long-term success. Be creative if you have to; look to trade associations, peer groups, or outsourcing partners for help scanning the horizon for new opportunities. Combining these disciplines is the key to consistently producing amazing results.

This is especially important in today’s business climate, where the need to adapt is constant.