Recently, one of my Vistage members asked the group this question: “What is the difference between leadership and management?”

He heard a lot of responses and the one that said it best was this one…

“Leadership is doing the right things, management is doing things right.”  from management guru Warren Bennis

What does it mean to do things right? Here are my top 5:

  • Leadership is setting the direction
  • Leadership is inspiring when there are tailwinds and when there are headwinds
  • Leadership is being intentional about your culture
  • Leadership is  accountability
  • Leadership is  making tough choices

And here are my questions for you:

  • What else would you add to this list?
  • If you and your leadership team did your job well as leaders and managed the agreements you have with your team, how might the role of management evolve?


Elisa K. Spain

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  • Jack Altschuler

    Elisa, your list is both strong and useful. Here’s another view of this.

    A CEO in one of my Vistage groups was a graduate of West Point and he taught me something during a one-to-one. The faculty at West Point is and must be clear about leadership because the single purpose of the institution is to produce new leaders for the Army, so they make a critical differentiation. It is what the cadets are taught and in my workshops it is Fully Alive Leadership Principle #1: Manage things; Lead people.

    This is the single most powerful aspect of leadership, one which I be happy to flesh out for you.

  • Vance Liebman

    These are all very good ways of looking at the same issue. A lot of the things people say about leadership is aimed at staying out of the details everyday. In my first leadership position the best thing I learned was lead by example. When I translate that simple idea into daily life it comes out like this:
    Leadership is setting the example through your own actions, holding yourself accountable when you fall short and being willing to show others the standards you want to see all follow through the whole organization.

  • Gaye van den Hombergh


    Leadership is self-awareness and knowing what to do with that awareness. This means knowing what you are and are not good at; knowing how you and your actions impact the people around you; and knowing how to use that awareness to create teams and cultures to deliver outstanding results. Absent that self-awareness, no one can be a truly effective leader.

  • Michael Davis

    “Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” ― John C. Maxwell

    I think leadership involves coaching and growing others which is more than just an intentional culture.

  • Elisa Spain

    Thank you all for the additional insight to this question. All great reminders of the value of recognizing the difference between leadership and mangement and acting accordingly.

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