If an audience was asked to describe a profoundly inspirational and influential individual from any firm, from a big corporation to a small start-up, we would probably hear two separate roles and their accompanying processes mentioned as one. The person would most likely be described as an effective manager or leader, with the roles and their processes used interchangeably:
“He/She was a great leader because they managed the people/the company well.”
“He/She was a great manager because they led the people/the company well.”
Well, which is it?
The role of a manager and the process of managing is certainly not equivalent to the role of a leader and the process of leading. When I say “leader” you’d probably think of Steve Jobs; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Marcus Aurelius; an iconic, fictional character from a book or movie; or just about any commendable figure who paved the way for something great.
If I said “manager”, who would you think of? I would assume younger people would imagine some demanding character wagging their finger; a bossy, middle-aged person wearing a tie. More seasoned professionals may specifically recall a few poor or exceptional examples from their career who coordinated schedules and allocated duties, but certainly no one would picture Mother Theresa, Lincoln, or Gandhi.
This is not to say these monumental humans didn’t have or need management skills to accomplish their feats, because they certainly needed to manage several operations, however; these were secondary to keeping spirits aligned with their vision(s). At least the image of these icons gives unspoken insight on the crucial elements of leadership. So, why is there typically such a fuzzy line between the concepts of management and leadership when talking about business people?
Management and leadership are both necessary for a business to succeed. We can’t have a legitimate business if we only keep inventory and delegate tasks, and don’t define our future plans for expanding facilities or motivate employees with a meaningful company culture, and vice versa. Unlike a movement for social change; peace between nations; or even war, both are standing in plain sight on equal pedestals when a business flourishes. They’re without a doubt prevalent with agents of social change or war, but the “shiny”, heroic sentiments driving the aforementioned people tends to be fairly distracting.
For example, we might call Alexander the Great a profound leader because his passion and vision drove his conquering many nations and building a massive empire. But his passion and vision are glaring in our eyes through the pages in the history text, and blocking the tactical aspects of “sharpening the sword”. No one wants to hear how he managed the logistics: his soldiers’ strategic routes or how his army allocated rations when campaigning. So, in this way, it’s easy to distinguish leaders from managers, or completely neglect management’s presence altogether.
Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.
So far we’ve dipped our toes into the waters of understanding management from leadership, but we really haven’t taken a deep dive into a precise clarification between the two. Let’s assemble all the right components for an example which facilitates easy recall of the two concepts’ distinction so that we can envision the roles and apply them effortlessly in our future.
Clearly what I’m getting at is: let’s talk about sheep.
A flock of sheep serves as a comparable sample for workers within a business and its culture. The sheep move together toward a defined common goal, and other entities provide services which facilitate the herd’s day-to-day activities and guide them in the right direction. Although it’s essential for management and leadership to work together through the actions of executives, “higher-up” positions, and employees: the synergy between the two concepts might be perceived in a confusing mash-up in regards to business applications. So, to distinguish management from leadership in a clear-cut and brief manner, I’m going to split them into two roles: The Good Shepherd and The Good Sheepdog.
The Good Shepherd
“Good” in the sense I’m using it is just a substitute for “effective”, or an example substantial enough to consider. While I’m certainly not dropping any religious implications here, I would assume most peoples’ perspectives on which role represents management and which represents leadership would be fairly conventional: “Of course, The Shepherd is the leader because only he can know the mission and vision to guide the flock, and The Sheepdog is the manager, running around and barking orders at the sheep!”
In light of our discovery that management and leadership can be mistakenly used interchangeably : I’m going to argue the contrary.
If we take a look at each role from a very literal standpoint: a shepherd’s job would be more suitably characterized as “Manager” than “Leader”.
He delegates roles and tasks
The sheep, the sheepdog and the shepherd are all labeled with different roles because the shepherd says so, and these roles determine what tasks will be assigned. The sheep are assigned the task of grazing and obeying the direction of the shepherd. The sheepdog is trained to know several verbal commands which signal the time to perform a certain action in helping guide the sheep. Most importantly, the shepherd denotes himself as a herder: someone who has to perform tasks of allocating resources to the sheep and sheepdog, taking resources from the sheep (such as wool or meat), and maintaining the right conditions for the unexpected, such as welcoming a birth or avoiding danger.
Couldn’t we argue that with a little altering of these words, and framing acts of “keeping the coloring within the lines” as micro-level leading used to direct the crayon towards a bigger picture? Of course, this is where the distinction between management and leadership can be fuzzy. I’m attempting to defog our conceptual windshield for leadership as a process of inspiring and driving others towards a common goal, and management as a tool for measuring and accounting for progress by maintaining and delegating resources and tasks. Others may want to erase all these words I’ve written, to make the case that the two concepts are interchangeable with no distinction. The main point to take away is we’re making an exaggerated contrast pertaining to what the shepherd and the sheepdog do to make a clear distinction.
In more than four decades of studying businesses and consulting to organizations on how to implement new strategies, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people use the words “leadership” and “management” synonymously, and it drives me crazy every time.
– John P. Kotter, Harvard Business Review, 2013
He facilitates day-to-day activities
The shepherd regulates the activities on his farm in accordance to Acts of law and his own standards, I’d like to breakdown some of those roles and tasks discussed above in regards to how the shepherd manages the day-to-day activities of the “business”. That’s right, it’s a business, remember? Sheep don’t just serve as our mock employees either: animals are dollar bills. It’s all about converting those “lambies” into numerical values by sheering them naked or slaughtering them into tasty pieces. The shepherd uses the sheep more as a resource in this instance, and handles the logistics of converting his little buddies into raw materials for other partnered industries. Sound like a leader? No way, that’s cold hard numbers: that shepherd is counting dollar bills to fall asleep at night.
On a softer note, The Good Shepherd caters to the sheep’s everyday needs such as food, water, and shelter from dangerous, external forces. However, he is still using management to upkeep the physical well-being of the sheep. But what about keeping the sheep away from dangerous terrain or, even worse, predators? Surely, that is the work of a leader and only a leader: we can’t describe that as managerial, can we?
He literally carries a tool(s)
Let’s talk about that symbolic crook. What are the literal uses for the crook? Well, it’s used for maintaining balance in unsteady terrain and examining potentially dangerous undergrowth. Keeping stability in the industry (pasture) and scanning for threats in the environment? That sounds like strategic management.
But, only a passionate leader could protect his herd from predatory threats and “lead” them to safety, right? Well, when coyotes or wolves come into play that handy crook is good for lugging sheep around into safer positions and shooing away the snarling attackers. Still, the crook is being used as a tool for crisis management.
And, with a little management by objective, the shepherd even incorporates the sheepdog into the goals of supervising the sheep so that “man’s best friend” furthers the organization’s progress toward the objectives. In this way, the shepherd even uses the dog as a tool for managing.
That brings us to the true visionary leading the way…
The Good Sheep Dog
Is it crazy to claim that our four-legged, furry friend is more of a leader than his “owner”? Through analyzing the key qualities of The Good Sheep Dog that boast his importance to the herd, I believe this analogy’s skeptics will have a change of heart. So, what makes “old boy” more of a catalyst of inspiration: driving towards a common vision rather than being a means of surveying and addressing the status of things?
He’s a part of the team
The sheep dog doesn’t assume or assign a role like the shepherd. His perception is being one of the herd, he assumes the position side-by-side with the sheep. He asserts himself to redirect the sheep to the common vision, but he doesn’t assume a power role; he uses a primitive means of influence to steer them the right way.
The sheep are not a form of currency or a means of accruing dollar bills for the sheep dog: they are his team, and so is the shepherd. He may obey commands of the shepherd out of love and respect, but if you’ve ever dealt with a herding canine you’ll understand they aren’t afraid to alert you and speak up for themselves. In this way, he doesn’t just serve the sheep out of obedience for the shepherd: he serves the sheep because he’s a dutiful citizen of the pasture. Serving others serves himself. And if he believes the shepherd has made the wrong call, he won’t blindly jump off a bridge out of obedience. He will speak his mind and contribute as much as he can for the team to be the best it can be.
He has passion, heart, and strong will
When was the last time a canine came in from a bad day frowning at you? Never. The creature is positive and proactive by nature. He smiles and loves everyone in the room, and will make a relentless attempt to brighten anyone’s attitude. In this way, an upset shepherd, rainy day, or lost sheep won’t keep him down. He’ll bounce right back up, forgiving and ready to move forward with no burdensome luggage carried from past defeats. And if his tail is ever between his legs, it’s usually because of a strong sense of emotional intelligence; a sort of empathy and integrity displayed for those he respects.
In this way, The Good Sheep Dog brings a degree of unparalleled trustworthiness to the table; doing whatever it takes on his part to better the whole. Most times, the heart of The Good Sheep Dog will outmatch that of The Good Shepherd due to the unrelenting perseverance of the animal. In times of calamity, The Good Shepherd may even be in awe and humbled by the unabashed loyalty and faith the animal has in the herd.
If you don’t agree, check out the video below of a sheep dog that saved lambs from a smoldering barn, when the shepherd was already jumping to catastrophic conclusions and giving up. He didn’t ask for any merit afterwards either.
The point is, he earns his title. He doesn’t assign his role or have his role self-reference himself as a sort of vanity measure.
He’ll face tremendous adversity for the sake of the vision
A part of being a true leader for a cause, even something as humble as tending to the well-being of sheep, requires facing things that bring us out of our comfort zone, bring about hardship, or both. This certainly ties into the aforementioned quality, but it deserves its own section for a closer look. Why?
Because it’s very hard. If this aspect of leadership wasn’t the least bit difficult, if bumps in the rode or left hooks didn’t shake us up: everybody would jump out of their seats and become a leader. The drive to keep the vision in tact stems from that passion and courage it takes to fend off present obstacles. Whether it’d be bad press, recalls for a failed product, lawsuits, partners who say “You can count on me!” and then don’t come through, or even this guy:
To paraphrase Stephen Covey: the managers are the ones sharpening the machetes and hacking underbrush so the group can navigate through the jungle, the leaders are the ones climbing to the tree tops to determine whether the group is in the right jungle.