In a job interview I was once asked, “What is the difference between leadership and management?”
“Managers make sure things get done,” I answered, “Leaders make sure the right things get done.”
This has stuck in my brain ever since. It is true in many contexts and not just in the business since.
Management Isn’t Bad
We all need to get things done. We’ve all be part of organizations that lacked good management. Things seemed to only get done by accident. The people involved were just waiting to be told what to do. Even when there were explicit instructions, no one followed through.
We need to get stuff done, not just think or talk about getting stuff done.
Why Leadership Is Important
We all want to be given direction at least some of the time. I want to be part of a Toastmaster’s club that I can show up to and know things will be ready. I don’t want to have to manage every meeting. For that to happen someone has to set the guidelines and pay attention to make sure things are happening.
But getting stuff done, even successful meetings in a club for instance, isn’t leadership. Having a vision for why you are doing the things you are doing. Knowing what you want the club to be, what your desired end state is, that is the job of a leader.
Time Management vs Time Leadership
Can we apply this distinction to our time? There are a bazillion books, podcasts, videos, systems and apps for “managing” your time. These systems insure you “get stuff done”.
That’s the definition of management.
The problem is it is real easy to get stuff that doesn’t matter done. If you want to truly be successful, you have to lead your time and make sure you are getting the right things done.
With my proteges I teach them Time Leadership. This is more than just how you plan your week. You’ve got to lead first. To do this we use a bunch of exercises to figure out what they really want, codifying that into Desired End States, then break it down into goals, habits and milestones. After that planning your week is just about managing the schedule.
Project Management vs Project Leadership
Projects really, really need people who make sure stuff gets done. That is the whole point of project management. Most of the tools for project management is making sure stuff gets done.
But someone needs to make sure the tasks that go into that Gantt chart are the right things. These are the people who have the vision of what the project is really trying to accomplish. They are the Project Leaders.
Are You a Leader or a Manager?
Both are fine and we will all have times in our lives where we need to be both. Matter of fact in most of life, we will switch back and forth. We’ll lead while defining a project and then manage to make sure it gets done.
The important practice you need for this distinction is to ask yourself what you need to be right now. Is nothing getting done because you don’t know what you want? Or are you constantly busy, but aren’t getting what you really want?