When companies are looking to improve, many focus on training employees to become better leaders. What is often ignored, however, is also training employees to become better managers, which is just as critical to the success of an organization. Although some management and leadership skills are closely related, there are many distinct differences between the two. Let’s explore the distinction between leadership and management, why both are important, and how many development initiatives fall short by failing to address both of these skill sets.
Leadership vs. Management Skills
One of the key ingredients to building and sustaining a great company is having exceptional leaders. “Leadership” involves creating a vision, determining strategy, and inspiring employees to follow this path. Finding and communicating the strategic vision of the company is a critical step for successful businesses, and would be all but impossible without quality leaders. Leadership skills can range from the ability to confidently present a stretch goal for the future, to dealing with low employee morale. One of the most important functions of a leader is being a beacon of inspiration and insight for those they lead, which is important for any organization who wants to grow and get better.
Leadership is academically intriguing and multi-faceted. There are a wide variety of opinions about the qualities of what makes a great leader. These characteristics change over time as the workplace evolves. When companies aim to improve the higher-level employees in the organization, leadership is often the primary and sole focus.
What companies tend to overlook are management skills. In contrast to leadership skills, management skills are more timeless, routine, and intuitive. Admittedly, the topic of management is far less academically interesting and varied compared to leadership. However, management skills are just as critical as leadership skills to long-term organizational success.
If leadership involves defining the strategic vision, management involves executing the strategies needed to meet the goals of the organization. Where leadership exists to inspire, management exists to perform. Management skills are comprised of timeless principles and techniques that can be mastered by almost anyone. Managing others is a process that involves critical thinking, flexibility, communication, and an intimate familiarity of the organization’s goals and objectives. Having the skills to manage isn’t as simple as knowing concepts and theories; it requires experience and the ability to recognize situations and act accordingly.
Practical vs. Theoretical Training
Practical training gives people exposure to the situations they may encounter in the future. A huge benefit of practical training is that it helps with something called thin slicing, which is a person’s ability to make decisions and judgements based on past experiences. The more “thin slices” someone has in their arsenal, the more prepared they are to deal with difficult situations.
The reason that practical exercises work so well for management training is that managers, regardless of industry, tend to all deal with similar general issues: delegation, communication, feedback, team member conflicts, etc. Developing these fundamental management skills is best achieved by frequent targeted practice that prepares managers to deal with difficult situations on the job. Having the right framework and correctly structured practical experience is invaluable for developing management skills.
Theoretical training focuses on ideas and abstract principles relating to a certain topic. As opposed to focusing on specific situations, theoretical training involves high-level approaches and general theories that can apply to multiple types of issues. A benefit of theoretical training is that its concepts can be taught across a range of different subjects and still hold true. Leadership training often focuses on the theoretical component for this very reason.
Since leadership skills are, by their nature, always evolving and widely encompassing, leadership training is more likely to cover the high-level theory. This theoretical training approach is very useful for enabling people to deal with more top-level issues such as establishing a mission, setting strategy, or improving overall organizational culture.
Why These Distinctions Matter
Without direction and leadership, companies struggle to keep momentum and react to change. Without quality management, there is no framework to actually make things happen. Objectives are important, but they are far more actionable when there are the tools in place to follow through with them.
If a leader charts the course and steers the ship, a manager works the deck and keeps the ship afloat. When there’s a leaky hull, the manager is able to fix it using skills she’s learned from her past experiences. When there’s an iceberg straight ahead, the leader changes course, and the manager prepares the sails accordingly. Problems (and thus collisions) arise, however when communication between the leader and the manager is disrupted, or one fails to do her job. Organizations must develop both leadership and management skills for long-term success.
Having managers who understand what it takes to lead, and leaders who understand what it takes to manage is crucial to keeping the ship afloat. Nautical analogies aside, good managers should be familiar with leadership concepts and theories, and good leaders should be well-versed in management skills and strategies. With this consistency across an organization, it is far easier to accomplish growth, staying power, organizational health, and ultimately become a great company.
Where Vital Learning Fits In
At Vital Learning, we develop practical management skills. We believe that these skillsets are crucial to the success of any business, especially when used in conjunction with other leadership courses that may be more theoretical in nature. Having a well-rounded organization is important, and we believe that providing a holistic curriculum of leadership/management skills and theoretical/practical training is proven recipe for greatness.