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Leadership Vs. Management: What’s the Difference?

What is the difference between leadership and management? Find out.

We just finished the Peter Drucker Centennial celebration in Claremont. The world's foremost leadership and management scholars spoke at the week-long event, including Jim Collins, Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard, Charles Handy, Frances Hesselbein, Warren Bennis, and a host of others.

Several of the speakers discussed the difference between leadership and management. Typically this is that leaders engage in the "higher" functions of running the organization, while managers handle the more mundane tasks. But I think it's all about semantics. Successful and effective leaders and managers must do the same things. They need to set direction for followers and the organization, motivate, develop good working relationships with followers, be positive role models, and focus on goals.

So, what's the difference? Interestingly, I didn't see any sort of consensus among the various leadership/management gurus. Through most of his long professional life, Peter Drucker preferred the term "management" over "leadership." That was because in Drucker's eyes management is a noble endeavor. His conceptualization of good management was identical to how most scholars view leadership.

I also think there is a history to the use of the two terms. In business schools (and "Management" departments) the term manager was adopted because the prevailing view was that managers were in charge. Managers were still seen as professional workers with critical roles and responsibilities to help the organization succeed, but leadership was mostly not in the everyday vocabulary of management scholars.

Organizational psychologists and sociologists, on the other hand, became interested in the various roles that were played in all kinds of groups, and the term "leader" was defined as the person who played a key role in group decision making and setting direction and tone for the group. For psychologists, manager was a profession, not a key role in a group.

When psychologists and sociologists and their research began to be commonplace in business school settings, they imported the term "leadership." But the terms were not necessarily used in the same way. Some of the theories that emerged from management scholars focused on "management," such as Blake and Mouton's work with the Managerial Grid (later re-named Leadership Grid). While psychologists, such as Fred Fiedler, focused on "leadership," with his Contingency Model of Leadership.

So for me, and likely for most scholars of management/leadership, the semantics are a non-issue. Good leadership or good management is an important and noble endeavor.

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