People First HR Services

Managing and leading are not the same things

Colleen Coates

The terms “management” and “leadership” are often used interchangeably in the working world. But while they have both come to represent the person in charge of leading a group of people, the reality is that these two terms are as different in meaning as they are in approach.

According to Steve Pilote, senior consultant, leadership development at People First, the characteristics of leadership include charisma (enthusiasm, optimism and the ability to motivate and inspire), focused vision (being innovative and results-driven), participatory nature (fostering teamwork and collaboration), and emotional intelligence (ability to identify, assess, control and effectively utilize the knowledge of emotions of oneself and others).

“People don’t want to be managed, they want to be led,” says Pilote. “Simply put, management is the process of ensuring that the program and the objectives of the organization are implemented. Leadership, on the other hand, has to do with casting a vision and motivating people. It’s really about relationships.”

Pilote points out that all of us know people we would describe as a leader — coaches, heads of committees, organization leaders, politicos. They captivate us and have an ability to influence our behaviour.

“By thinking about a leader we would want to emulate, and realizing the qualities that distinguish them from others, we begin to understand what good leadership looks like.”

Here are some basic differences between managers and leaders:


— Managers have subordinates, leaders have followers. Simply put, managers appointed to a position of authority and their subordinates are largely told what to do and expected to comply. This is a transactional style. However, telling people what to do will not inspire them to follow you. Leaders will attract and inspire others to take up their cause by showing how it will benefit them and, in the long run, help them to attain their goals. This is a transformational style.

— Managers are focused on work, leaders are focused on people. While managers are usually focused on tasks, managing budgets and meeting deadlines, leaders put the most effort into developing people to perform at their best. They still pay attention to tasks, but their strategic focus is usually on “big-picture” achievements that better the entire organization.

— Managers seek stability, leaders are agents of change. Research shows that managers like navigating smooth waters. They tend to have an aversion to risk and prefer to avoid conflict associated with change, wherever possible. The problem is that they are less likely to take a chance on new growth opportunities. On the other hand, leaders will go out on a limb because bigger risk equals bigger reward. They’ll not only take the road less travelled, they will seek out the routes to success that others overlook.

Pilote says that if managers are concerned about effectiveness (getting work done), then leaders are concerned about efficiency (making things better).

“Managers ensure you are ‘doing things right, whereas leaders ensure you are ‘doing the right things right,'” he says, adding that true leaders are also highly effective managers.

One of the most important ingredients of leadership is integrity, which is not about what we do, but who we are. It is a result of self-discipline, personal accountability, inner trust and a decision to be honest in every aspect of life.

“Leaders with integrity continually demonstrate that their words and actions line up. They are who they are, no matter where they are or who they are with,” Pilote says.

Contrary to popular belief, leaders aren’t made, nor are they born. Leadership is a choice. While managers are appointed, leadership is earned. It is a belief in your convictions and a commitment to your values. Because of this, true leaders also have high credibility. The more credible you are as a leader, the more confidence your people will place in you. And the more confidence they have, the more likely they are to follow your lead.

It is essential that the person at the helm of an organizational ship exhibits both leadership and management skills to be effective. They need to manage day-to-day tasks and at the same time, be a big-picture thinker who will be open to new opportunities and changes. Having only good leadership skills will create a gap in the ability to execute the vision; having only good management skills will not be enough to motivate the team to deliver results. A unique blending of those two styles is what makes one a truly effective leader.

— With reporting by Barbara Chabai


Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a Practice Leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at



The Role of Leadership — Building High Performance; a presentation by Steve Pilote, People First HR Services

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 1, 2011 H1