ATD Blog

Leadership Versus Management: Mindset Versus Skillset

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The words “leadership” and “management” are often used interchangeably in business, causing people to believe there isn’t much difference. But there is a world of difference between these character traits. One is about mindset. The other is about skillset.

Management relates to managing things, projects, and processes. We need management, and we need managers who are effective at managing. Work requires management. Projects at work must be managed. Your personal life needs management too. Laundry must be managed. Your bank account must be managed.

Management is a useful, valuable, and important skillset. But, you should know there is a huge difference between management and leadership.

Leadership relates to leading and influencing people.

The critical difference is that things, projects, and processes don’t have feelings, thoughts, opinions, or emotions. People do. When we fail to account for and respect those feelings, thoughts, opinions, and emotions, we stop leading, start managing, and begin to lose influence. In other words, when we treat people like objects instead of like people, our influence with them goes down.

Many times people who are good at managing things and processes get promoted. Because they know how to do the work efficiently and effectively, they try to manage the people like they manage their work, only to discover there’s a massive difference between doing the work yourself and inspiring someone else to do it.

I have three college degrees in management, including an MBA. I read and studied dozens, if not hundreds, of books about management and “leadership” to earn those degrees. Most of them weren’t any good. They were vague, theoretical, and uninteresting. I learned about training techniques, accounting principles, communication styles, managing human resources, and more.

But I didn’t learn how to lead and influence people.


I’m one of those people who had the misconception that “leadership” was only for leaders. Or more specifically, bosses, managers, CEOs, owners of companies, and the like. I knew those people were leaders and needed leadership. I thought leadership came with a leadership position.

Then, I learned leadership is defined as influence.

Leadership is about developing influence. It’s not about being given a title, position, or job as a manager. Sure, having a title, position, or job as a “leader” comes with authority. But it doesn’t come with authentic influence.

For example, if I am your manager or boss and I want to relocate your office, the office furniture doesn’t care. I can simply move it. However, you probably wouldn’t like it if I relocated your office and you without an explanation or your input. As your manager, I can relocate you whenever I want without consideration of your feelings. But if I do, I will decrease my influence with you.

If I’m your leader instead of your manager, I’ll talk with you, explain why the move needs to happen, and give you an opportunity to weigh in. If I’m a great leader, I’ll get buy-in from you first, and then we’ll agree on a way forward together. If I lead you, I will increase my influence.


What are the implications for us as talent development professionals or healthcare professionals?

First, as talent development professionals we seldom have a formal position of authority over the people we need and want to influence. Talent development professionals are often tasked with coaching team members, helping them develop competencies, and increasing workforce engagement. The more influence you have, the easier it is to do your job. Think of the last time you were frustrated, mad, sad, or upset with someone. I’m sure you wish you would have had more influence during that situation. If you would have had more influence, you wouldn’t have been as frustrated, upset, sad, or mad.

Second, as healthcare professionals, our relationships with people and our influence with them determines our professional success. Whether it’s learning to increase your influence with one particular physician or influencing patients to stay engaged in their health choices and outcomes, when you have more influence in the situation, your job will be easier. Every time. Work gets better with more influence. Life gets better with more influence.

The only question then is, how do we get more influence? Influence is largely determined by our character, or how we do what we do, because our ability to influence someone is first based on our ability to build a relationship with them. If you don’t know me, you won’t trust me very much. Or, if you do know me but I’ve caused you to distrust me by my actions, you don’t trust me. With people, the little things are big things.

Consider how these things increase or decrease influence:

  • Do I keep my commitments?
  • Do I show up on time?
  • Do I have integrity?
  • Do you trust me to be ethical?
  • Do I lose my temper and yell at you?

In other words, who we are and how we do what we do is more important than what we know. Learning to build relationships with other people helps you increase your authentic influence over time. Consider how every interaction is an opportunity to increase your influence by building the relationship.

About the Author

Ria Story is founder of Top Story Leadership, as well as a professional speaker, TEDx presenter, and author of 10 books, including Leadership Gems for Women. Ria’s background includes more than 10 years in administrative healthcare with several years in leadership and management, including working as the director of compliance for a large healthcare organization. Ria is a certified leadership speaker and trainer.

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I suggest reading The One Thing You Need to Know by Marcus Buckingham to think differently. He suggests management is about turning talent into performance; so managers discover what's unique about each person and capitalize on it. Leadership is about rallying people to a better future; so leaders discover what's universal and capitalize on it. Thus, the difference between management and leadership is a focus on uniqueness vs. universality and not things vs. people.
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Good stuff, Ria! Truly a timely thought in the context of leading (influencing) people during COVID. The leaders I'm interacting with are dealing with INFLUENCE issues (how to inspire, encourage, focus, challenge, develop, change, etc.) when their teams are scared, distracted, overworked, working from home, or working while being exposed in an essential business. We are in a season of leadership challenge, where the challenges are new every single day.
I'm so glad you enjoyed it Damian. Yes, this season is challenging leaders like never before. Many leaders are finding how just how much influence they have, or don't have, in this challenging season. The best will rise to the top, learning from this experience and emerging as better leaders because of it!
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