Both/And: Untangling the Relationship Between Management & Leadership

Andrea Mignolo
Published in
7 min readSep 3, 2020


A closer look at management, leadership, and why it’s important to understand the differences between the two.

Photo by Tara Evans on Unsplash

If you’re stepping into a leadership role, chances are you’re also going to be doing a lot of managing. And while it’s true the two overlap quite a bit, understanding the differences can help you be more effective manager, a more inspirational leader, and more successful overall.

On Management

Managers are a specific breed of leader, created by the business world to guide the destinies of corporate enterprises. They are responsible and accountable for running and managing a part of the business. This might be a division, a department, or a team with a specific mandate. Their power in the organization is bestowed upon them by their position, which is why it’s called positional power. If they weren’t in the position, they wouldn’t have power. When combined with great leadership skills, managers rarely need to rely on positional power. Bereft of leadership skills, however, managers with positional power become the thing of nightmares (or New Yorker cartoons).

A few things managers do:

  1. Literally manages a part of the business
  2. Aligns work with strategy
  3. Green-lights projects
  4. In charge of hiring, firing, and promotions
  5. Responsible for career development
  6. Writes annual and mid-year reviews
  7. Manages P&L

On Leadership

Leaders, in organizations or otherwise, have the ability to bring people together; to align, inspire, and empower them towards a common vision. Leaders honor both the work to be done, and the people doing it. Their power doesn’t come from a title, but instead from the relationships they’ve built. Personal power is given to leaders by individuals who believe they are worth following and looking to for direction.

Historically, managers weren’t necessarily expected to have great leadership skills or experience. Positional power was enough to get the job done. These days, teams expect their managers to also be great leaders. After all, people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.

A few things leaders do:

  1. Articulates and embodies vision, values, and purpose
  2. Creates a sense of inclusion and belonging
  3. Shows up fully present
  4. Exhibits emotional and social intelligence
  5. Actively listens and invites others to the conversation
  6. Builds meaningful relationships and fosters trust

Management & Leadership: A Continuum

Management and leadership are two sides of the same coin, and it can be helpful to look at them as a continuum.

American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 2017; 81(6) Article 102.

The trick is in knowing when to show up as a leader, as a manager, or as both (spoiler alert: it’s usually both). I think this is one of the most challenging things for new managers to learn, especially if they haven’t developed (or aren’t sure of) their leadership style. If you rely too much on positional power, you’ll alienate your team and come across as an autocratic leader. If you rely too much on personal power, you won’t learn how to make authoritative decisions (or build trust in your ability to make those decisions), which will significantly dampen your ability to have an impact on the business.

If you’ve been at this game for a while, you’ve probably developed a pretty nuanced sense for when to lead and when to manage. Even then, it can still be hard to get right!

Putting It Into Practice

There are three lenses that can be helpful in trying to triangulate when to lead, and when to manage: context, possibility, and action. I’m sure there are hundreds of ways to approach this and would love to learn how other folks think about it. If you are someone who spends cycles on this and are willing to share, PLEASE do (like, right here in the comments, or on Twitter, or in an email, or whatever).

Context: Context is critical; nothing happens in a vacuum! How much do you know about the context surrounding the situation? Is there a problem?A lack of clarity? Is this within your team or across teams? What will it take to resolve it, who is involved, who is impacted, and what is the urgency? Conversely, is there excitement or a desire to do something new or different? Who do you need to convince? What is at stake?

Possibility: What solutions or paths are available? What do you already know, what do you need to learn? Who has that information, and who might also have ideas about new possibilities? Is there appetite at the organization for multiple possibilities, or is there pressure to collapse everything into a singular possibility?

Action: What actions can be taken to bring clarity to the situation or to a resolution/decision? What is within your mandate to do? What needs to be done by others? Do you have the time to remain open to possibilities, or is urgency requiring you to narrow things down? Who is needed to make a decision?

An Example Scenario

A new project has been green-lit for research and development. A cross-functional team has been assigned, including two members from your team who are expected to commit about 60% of their time to early exploration, alongside their day to day responsibilities. The project lead is excited (maybe a little too excited) about the potential of this new project and considers themselves a mini-CEO of the initiative. They (the project lead) begin to assign your team tasks well outside what is in scope for the project, they create silos which leads to a lack of transparency and communication, and they make promises to early clients with time frames and schedules that haven’t been backed up by other members of the team. Your team is frustrated, losing morale, and unsure of what to do.

Context, possibility, action:

Context: A project is starting to go off the rails, your team is being impacted, and while you aren’t part of the day to day operations of this project, a big part of its early success relies on your team, and therefor you. Your team is obviously feeling the pain of this, but so is the larger project team, and the organization who is relying on this project to grow the business.

Possibility: There are a number of possibilities in front of you: finding a way to get the cross-functional team to work together, doing some issue clearing, continuing with the status quo, creating more boundaries and silos and just stitching together the output of each person on the team (in order to avoid confrontation), or just letting the project go off the tracks entirely.

Action: The situation demands urgency because of the importance of the project, and how people are being impacted. You have the mandate to determine what your team works on, but you don’t have mandate over the entire project. You don’t want to lose anyone, the project is important to the company, and there are a lot of complicating factors to consider.

Where do you lead, and where do you manage?

Lead: Work with your team, teaching them frameworks and tactics for having difficult conversations. Help them process their experiences, understand their own contribution to the situation, and generate new approaches and behaviors that will open up new possibilities and ways of working. Also use leadership to foster your relationship with the project lead — spend some time with them to understand their perspective, the purpose behind their actions, and what’s blocking the team.

Manage: This is where you exercise positional power with the project lead (though they don’t report to you, their behavior is directly impacting your team) — you need to approve what your team works on and all requests for work must run though you (make sure your team understands this as well). This removes the burden of unnecessary work being assigned and gives your team breathing room to focus on the work that needs to be done. But remember! Positional power without a side of leadership often comes off as autocratic, and you could risk impacting your relationship with the project lead. Tread carefully.

Okay, Got It. Now What?

Keep a Journal

The best way to start to understand your own ways of leading and managing, uncover blind spots, and get a sense of your leadership style, is to keep a journal. For example, at the end of each day quickly reflect on where you lead, where you managed, and what you learned. Did you face a particularly complex and challenging situation? Jot down the context, possibilities, and actions. Which ones call for leadership, and which ones for management? After a few weeks, you’ll start to see patterns that can be great learning material for further personal and professional development.

And Remember, It’s a Balance

Day to day, the role of leadership and management blur together. As we move between tasks, meetings, and conversations we sit somewhere in the middle of the leadership <-> management continuum, instinctually moving across it based on our own combination of experience, training, and self-awareness. But every so often it can be beneficial to pause and reflect on the differences between the two, examining our own ways of showing up as managers and leaders. Maintaining the right balance of personal and positional power can make all the difference.

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