I was having a discussion with my wife the other day about the differences between “leadership” and “management.” And then to that prickly question of what is meant by “authority.” So here were my general thoughts on the matter, and how they relate to government:
“Management” is the “what” and the “how.” Leadership is the “why.” A good manager understands what the organization needs to accomplish (the “what”) and has a plan of execution to meet those goals (the “how”). Good leaders have a solid strategic vision (the “why”) and know how to motivate those around them. Good leaders are almost always good managers, but good managers do not always make good leaders.
From what I’ve seen in practice, the key differentiator between managers and leaders is the ability to motivate their employees. We’ve all worked for managers that were intelligent, outstanding individual contributors…but can’t handle the inevitable push and pull between a supervisor and their subordinate.
Another trait of a leader: they recognize the difference between positional authority and knowledge authority. Subordinate employees, especially those that have been in their position for awhile, have generally developed very specific knowledge about their particular area, and have a network of folks across the organization they can use as a back-channel for information. This is “knowledge authority.” The most difficult manager I ever worked for viewed this as a threat to their power, instead of an asset to be leveraged for the good of the team.
Which brings me to positional authority, or “pulling rank.” A good leader does everything in their power to avoid this. You’ll get compliance in the short term, but also have the potential to breed intense resentment in the long run. In my own experience, the most dysfunctional organizations rely on positional authority. These organizations have the most fires to put out on a daily basis, because their employees are too paralyzed to make any decisions.
So, what do you think? What is the difference between leadership and management?