Leading vs. Managing

Maybe you have been waiting for this opportunity? Possibly you absolutely dread the idea of running your own team in the workplace? Either way, taking charge of a group of co- workers or project is a responsibility one must be prepared for at some point in your professional life.  Understanding the difference between leading and managing a team can help you by utilizing the proper tool for the task.

While the responsibility associated with leading or managing a team can be identical, the techniques and when they are used can make a huge difference. These can include:

  • Clearly defining desired outcome and expected procedure
  • Define roles and responsibilities, reporting structures and communication plans
  • Give appropriate authority for responsibility or task assigned and create a culture of accountability.
  • Remember, direct leadership/management does not have to be stern! It can be both positive and collaborative by defining transparent responsibilities for each team member. Make sure everyone involved knows the standards for success.

As you can see, one definition has a positive connotation while the other is quite negative.  Both are tools that may be required at some point, just be certain to use the right tool for the task!

“Micro-lead” DO NOT “Micro-manage”

Micro-managing is defined by Merriam-Webster as to manage with excessive control or attention to details

Leading a team often requires that you deliver strategic direction while providing the information and resources needed for the team to complete the assigned task.  This is accomplished through an efficient communication system and ensuring the team has a thorough understanding of the desired outcome.

A strong leader will allow the team to pursue this outcome while clearing organizational obstructions, navigating market barriers and allowing each team member to complete their task within the published timeline and standard. It is up to the strong leader to make sure this occurs by periodically assessing procedure and outcomes.

The strong leader has the additional responsibility of managing outside influences such as client and stakeholder input, environmental project influence and budget concerns.

By LEADING your team, you have created a cultural environment that removes obstacles and provides the support necessary for its members to efficiently do their best work. Additionally, you create added value by having the time to refine and update the strategic goals and provide maximal support.

Managing your team is quite a different task and skill set. Managing is often much more tactical. That is, its “in the weeds” with your colleagues and helping or directing their daily tasks. While it is sometimes necessary for a leader to intercede and manage a pain point, this should be done with care to ensure positive working relationships within the team.  Effective managers will generally “teach not tell” and create an everyday environment that allows teammates to seek guidance and clarity when they have an issue. When a manager or leader over manages, it can often have a negative impact on the culture of the team by eroding the trust in team member’s abilities.

Both Leadership and Management start with you! When in a position of responsibility:

  • Be accountable to your superiors, your peers and most of all your subordinates;
  • Make certain to communicate clearly and listen to others;
  • Define the acceptable work process and outcomes.

A strong Leader and Manager will make certain that everyone understands the organizational standards for success. As the US Army Ranger Creed states; “set the example for others to follow!”

Through diligence and practice, a motivated person can employ the techniques and strategies of both a good leader and manager.  Understanding the difference is the first step.  Practice these techniques in small groups outside the workplace. Practice with your family, book club or sports team. Talk to others about leadership/management styles and really consider their answers.  Again…. It starts with YOU!


About the Author — Mike Millett

Mike is a former member of the US Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment and a Distinguished Honor Graduate of the US Army’s Ranger School. Mike currently works as a Risk Management Consultant specializing in leading teams (multiple industries) in austere or difficult environments around the world.  Mike is a business owner, corporate leadership coach and adventure travel enthusiast.Transformational Leadership is within reach.

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