Management vs. Leadership: Power up your vocabulary!

What’s the difference between management and leadership, and why is it important to separate them?

Defining them gives each one more clarity, clarity which helps us learn to use them in a more efficient way. We aren’t really separating management and leadership; we are giving each their own distinctive quality so that they become more useful in their partnership as our tools of choice.

And here’s the extra good stuff: I have a distinction to propose to you, intended to help you see that everyone can manage, and everyone can lead —including you.

Define your words and you give clarity to your meaning

Words are powerful when you intend them to be, and when you set them up for success in everyday usage; choosing the right word within proper context is smarter communication whether you are working or playing. Think about those triggers and mantras you instantly understand and attach specific meaning to: For example, “Just do it” and “We try harder” have become iconic branding for Nike and for Avis.

Vocabulary, language and conversation combine as our primary tools in business communications. Words and key concept phrases are shortcuts to good actions, and lend themselves to a sense of urgency, whereas ill-chosen words that muddle up understanding cause us to hesitate in confusion. Good words and phrases that are part of the workplace vocabulary stimulate organizational culture; they become our insider’s language.

Good words cost nothing and are always accessible; they can literally be at the tips of our tongues, but are they spoken? How well do we use them?

The need for concise, CLEAR, reliable and responsive communication is critical in thriving businesses. Smart, intentional communication is brilliantly useful. Drive communication of the right messages, and you drive momentum and worthwhile energies. Think of the ‘right message’ simply as the smartest collection of well-defined words, triggering a well-defined and highly desirable outcome.

I love the way that our commonly used Hawaiian words elevate old meanings for us, infusing them with new life. With the holidays upon us, think about how Lōkahi (cooperation, unity and harmony) has come to mean so much more within the context of community giving in recent years. It’s pretty obvious that part of my intention with writing this blog is to have Alaka‘i mean something newly exciting to you.

Now consider this: We miss much opportunity using commonplace (but not commonly understood) English too. ‘Management’ and ‘leadership’ are perfect examples, words often used interchangeably and taken far too lightly.

Management versus Leadership: The definitions of Say ‘Alaka‘i’

So how shall we define management and leadership going forward? Here is the ‘language of intention’ you will continue to read about on this blog’s pages.

First the bare-bone basics. Management and leadership are the nouns that result from two powerful verbs. We’ll refer to Webster for a fairly universal acceptance of what they mean:

Manage v., to bring about or succeed in accomplishing; contrive.
Lead v., to go before or with, to show the way; conduct or escort.
— Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, Random House New York

I’ve written this about the intentional design of Say ‘Alaka‘i’:

My approach here will be to treat management and leadership as specific actions and energy creators, NOT jobs, titles or positions on an organizational chart, for I think to do so would be far too boring and limiting — we can have more than that.

My Alaka‘i mantra goes like this: Leaders champion ideas. Managers champion people. Their partnership can be profound. Within one individual (within you!) the disciplines of management and leadership are extraordinary —and entirely possible. Therefore;

  • I suggest we align management with mission, and working with others.
  • I suggest we align leadership with vision, and working on our ideas.

Management is about mission, and working with others

We human beings were not meant to be alone. Life as we know it is not a solo proposition when we are at our best and our healthiest; we feed off our relationships with others, knowing they nurture us in a myriad of ways. Likewise, teamwork creates synergy, where “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” and so many of our individual efforts become exponential.

Why go it alone when you don’t have to?
Why work harder when you can work smarter, and in good company to boot?

The great managers of our world are those who champion people. They are good bosses —and don’t shy away from being the boss, and they are mentors and coaches. They discover what talents each of their people possess, and they place those people where they can employ those talents and capitalize on their strengths and their values. Then, they turn their attentions to the workplace itself, optimizing systems and processes which people will do their best work within; they make sure resources are readily available, and they obliterate the obstacles. Managers are the stewards of the optimal workplace environment.

However the work itself has to be meaningful, fulfilling and rewarding too. Work you can describe that way is the work of an important mission. Mission is how we set about achieving our vision; it is the strategic model we apply to making our future vision our most prosperous reality.

Leadership is about vision, and working on our ideas

Leadership is about a conversion of possibility we are all perfectly suited for: Great leadership turns good ideas into great visions. A vision is the best possible contextual picture we have of our future.

The great leaders of our world are those who champion visionary ideas. Often those ideas are theirs, but they don’t have to be: The leader however, will be the one who articulates them best, causing the rest of us to enroll in the effort (the mission). The leader turns great ideas into the energy creators of vision that a great manager will attach specific actions of mission to.

This premise is why I believe we presently have a global lack of leadership that is such a tragic underutilization of our human potential, including right here in Hawai‘i. When it comes to ideas, we need a more positive expectancy, a mentality of abundance versus one of scarcity. Can, not can’t. “Let’s go get ‘em!” not “Yeah, but””

We all have ideas that we fail to recognize or vastly underestimate, and thus we don’t set about converting them. Thus I also believe that great leadership can be much more commonly harnessed than great management, which takes a substantially greater amount of training and performance coaching. Sometimes we do recognize our good ideas, and we don’t underestimate them at all, but we just don’t know how to go about working on them, and bringing them to the fruition of well-articulated vision. This is where the synergistic partnership of management and leadership enters the picture.

One canoe seats us all

When great management is in place, the ideas of emerging leaders find fertile ground. It will often require a charismatic leader to create excitement, leading with new, innovative and brave thinking. However it will require a great manager of people to actually inspire those who are charged with getting the job done.

In choppy seas, the leader may be sitting in front of the canoe with the keenest eye for land, but the manager is the one steering. The manager is focused on all the paddlers individually and as a team: He (or she) is the one who will engage them to bring that canoe to shore. The leader never allows his (or her) eyes to stray from the shoreline, intent on the canoe arriving at the best, most beautiful sandy beach that shoreline offers; no other will do.

We have a lot to talk story about, don’t you think?
Say ‘Alaka‘i’ and we will Ho‘ohana together.

Until the next time, let’s talk story in the comment boxes;
How have you defined management or leadership up to now, and do you feel this framework can prove to be newly useful for you? Can you incorporate some of what I have shared with you into your personal management and leadership philosophy? Is there anything you would like to add and share with us?


2010 Update: I made the decision to bring Say “Alaka‘i” here to Talking Story in late May of 2010 when the Honolulu Advertiser, where the blog previously appeared, was merged with the Star Bulletin (Read more at Say “Alaka‘i” is Returning to the Mothership). This was an article I had not previously duplicated here on Talking Story, and I wanted to bring the comments over as well. Here they are:

Dean Boyer: November 20th, 2008 at 8:43 am
Rosa, I love the phrase “obliterate obstacles”, which sounds like an explosive approach against impediments. I can see it working best with processes and procedures that impede progress.

However, if the obstacle is a person, a more patient approach might be best, especially if the person is worth the patient investment. Having worked in the people business (education) for more than 30 years, I have seen the wisdom of another word “catalyst”. A chemist friend of mine defined it not as something which causes other things to occur but as something which lowers resistance so change can occur.

So, how much patience should be given to employees who impede progress? Which takes priority – the plan or the person?

Rosa Say: November 20th, 2008 at 10:17 am
I like that visual of “an explosive approach against impediments” too Dean!

As for this: “how much patience should be given to employees who impede progress? Which takes priority – the plan or the person?” my answer would be the person, and thus as much patience (and smarts) as it might take, because
Ӣ People can fix broken processes.
Ӣ Processes cannot fix broken-in-spirit people.

By the way, ‘catalyst’ is one of my favorite words, and you have given me some fresh thinking about it, mahalo.

Russ: November 20th, 2008 at 8:44 am
Wow, what a great read! For years I have had many conversations with various people about the differences between a leader and a manager but I have never been able to describe or illustrate it in such a concise manner.

I have been frustrated many times by “the powers that be” in an organization who found themselves with an opportunity to find a leader only to see them hire a manager. Which in and of itself is not the problem, the real problem was that they didn’t see or understand there is a difference. Not knowing that became a missed opportunity. And that typically became the difference between being great and just being. Which in some cases also resulted in not being any more.

Mahalo Rosa for this gift! I look forward to being able to point people to this article and to use the descriptions in it. I only hope I do it justice and not mess up your message.

Rosa Say: November 20th, 2008 at 10:27 am
I understand the frustration you are referring to Russ, and I think you offer great testament to why thinking of management and leadership (M/L for short) as positions, titles, or specific people can pigeon-hole us into very limiting capacities. Reality is that we all manage *and* lead every day and in a wide variety of ‘transactional encounters’ and thus I prefer to think of M/L as *actions,* and as service disciplines.

We are just getting started with these definitions, and we’ll soon talk more about how this works in the body of just one person! A quick preview; we manage within our leadership intention, and we lead within our management intention.

And Russ, you will not “mess up” my message! The kaona of Say “Alaka‘i” is that we do talk story about these things more often, so that we can communicate with each other better, so I sincerely thank you for your intentions with sharing, mahalo!

Fran: November 20th, 2008 at 11:39 am
I wonder if the difference between Management and Leadership is something new startups need to really be aware of. Perhaps the ones that survive are the ones with a team of managers backing up the charismatic leader with the vision. I think it’s also why we’re seeing changes at the top in several technology companies.

Rosa Say: November 20th, 2008 at 1:44 pm
Without any specific tech companies in mind Fran, I would answer in the general sense across industry, that it’s a strategic partnering of awareness and utility: Assigning differences to management and leadership —even if a business owner creates definitions which differ from these— simply turns them into tools that business can put to good use, with better communication the most basic tool of them all.

I would think that tech companies in particular do need some very specific managerial strategies to handle the rapid idea generation they need to nurture, in a very competitive environment where innovation and prototyping speed is of the essence; I’d love to hear from more readers familiar with this! Perhaps someone has a short story to share?

Susie Collins: November 22nd, 2008 at 11:37 am
I find the most effective leaders also have a gift at managing human resources, meaning they are very good at naming managers and putting the right person in the right job. A leader can have a great vision for the future, but if they are not in touch with the human resources component of the equation, it’s very hard to get internal consensus and buy-in from the larger group.

On the flip side, I find the most effective managers understand that it’s always “all about the leader.” It might sound superficial, but if that component is missing in the manager’s tool box, all is lost. Understanding that “it’s all about the leader” can really help a manager understand how things work and how to best get things done.

And I would add an overarching theme necessary to success in the 21st century: “Partnership” and “collaboration” are absolutely key to getting anything done these days, both internally and externally. Everybody– managers and leaders– need to be reaching inside and outside their own business and working together, collaboratively, with others to get the job done. Collaboration is actually replacing competition in the most innovative fields (e.g. science, tech, medicine, higher ed). If leaders and managers are not skilled in collaboration, oooo boy, it can be tough to implement a good vision.

Rosa Say: November 22nd, 2008 at 11:54 am
Excellent, insightful comment Susie, and I do not think your “on the flip side” point is superficial at all – it is realistic and pragmatic. I could not have said this better; mahalo nui for your addition.

Manish Mohan: March 26th, 2009 at 5:57 pm
Finally a post that doesn’t look down upon managers vis a vis leaders. This is a great well balanced view of managers and leaders. I agree, we require both great managers and leaders. And great managers aren’t necessarily bureaucrats as they are made out to be. Thank you for such refreshing view point.

Rosa Say: March 27th, 2009 at 12:42 pm
Aloha Manish, thank you for the comment. More and more every day, I defer to manage/managing and lead/leading as the words I choose, deliberately avoiding “manager” and “leader” and even management and leadership for the very reason you reference. We get so stuck on these disciplines as people of position or title, and it is so, so much more useful to think of them as verbs! Add to that the fact that anyone can own them, if they so choose.