Leadership Vs. Management

(I’m writing something every day for #100days. This is post 23/100.)

In a talk last week by an SVP of Engineering at a major tech company, I saw a slide that read: “Management is Communication”.

The idea, simply, being that a manager’s primary role was to communicate. Whereas an individual contributor’s primary role is to build, a manager takes on the responsibility of communicating — sharing informations, news and ideas — with the people that need to know those things.

In conversation today, recounting that insight — someone asked: “How is leadership different than management?”

My instinctive response was that leadership was the combination of two things:

  • Conviction.
  • Trust.

Conviction is the ability to find the strongest truth in a group. Where there are 5 viable options, picking the best one, and doing so with conviction.

It is impossible to follow someone who does not appear to know where they are going.

Trust is the bridge that spans uncertainty and ambiguity.

When you follow a leader, there will be many occasions in which you have access to only a sliver of the available information.

In many cases, it’s in the collective best interest that you don’t know everything, or even attempt to.

Trust is what allows you to withstand that unknown, and to say — “even if this doesn’t make sense to me, I trust her enough to believe she’ll make the right choice”.

Leadership sometimes means holding multiple, conflicting truths in your head simultaneously. It means not being able to share everything with everyone all at once. It means acting against people’s best interest when you believe the greater good is at stake.

Conviction is what convinces people to hold the roof down when the cyclone comes.

Trust is what stops them letting go when it’s about to lift off.

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