You Manage Things, You Lead People

You may hear different definition what the difference between management and leadership is. One of the most popular definition is that “Management is doing things right and leadership is doing the right things.” Though I subscribe to a certain extent to this definition I would offer a different one: “Management is a science. Leadership is an art.” Management is a set of techniques you can learn at school or from some management book. It helps you with managing things. Project management, for example, you get set of instructions, clearly defined process, checklists, tables, basic rules that if followed will make you a successful project manager.

However, this doesn’t apply to people. People, in their nature, are unmanageable. You cannot have them completely under your control and they may always react in unpredictable ways. In fact, I would argue that you cannot manage people at all. Sometimes you may have the impression that you manage people but that is just you trying to fool yourself. Yes, you have certain guidelines and techniques that may work in some situations, but it is an art to know when to employ which trick. In fact, not only you cannot manage people, you don’t want to. By “managing” people you are taking away their creativity, ability to decide for themselves and any intrinsic motivation they may have.

I used to work in a matrix organization in both types of roles a project manager and a people manager. It took me some time to realize that “people manager” is an oxymoron. I wasn’t managing people. I was “responsible” for them but I was managing things and processes. I was managing budget, I was managing performance review process, hiring and firing process, personal development process, and bunch of other processes but I wasn’t “managing people”. When it comes to people the only chance you have is to lead them.

Leadership is an art and it can be learned. Talent is nice and will make things easier at the beginning but at the end of the day it is not what matters. I would compare it to drawing a picture. Some of us are born with better skills/talent in drawing pictures. However, almost every one of us can become a reasonably skilled when focusing our effort on learning how to draw a picture. I’m not saying we would become the second Picasso but we could be reasonably good. The same goes to leadership. Almost anyone can become a leader if she puts the effort to it. It will be easier for some than for others but it can be achieved. At the end it will be question of acquired skills, learned behavior, our internal values, our vision, attitude and our own purpose in this life. These are the things that determine whether you succeed or fail at becoming a great leader.

So where would you start? I would suggest to consider these aspects as a solid foundation of your future leadership:

  • Being a leader means to have genuine interest in people. That is the single most important thing that will drive your success as a leader.
  • Being a leader means passion. You need to have passion for your work, passion for the vision, passion for working with people, passion for changing the world.
  • Being a leader means trust. You need to trust in yourself and trust in others. You need to trust in everyone’s ability to achieve and their motivation to do the best.
  • Being a leader means having a positive attitude. You see problems as challenges (I know it is a cliché). You always find a way how to turn even the most difficult situation around to get out the good and leave the bad behind.
  • Being a leader means being humble. You need to help others learn, grow and shine. You don’t want the spotlight on you, but on others to whom you helped.
  • Being a leader means doing lots of work. As with anything else in life, if you want to be a leader you need to spend hours and hours of learning and working hard. Remember that if you ask people to do more than you are willing to do yourself chances are you won’t succeed.

So the next time you will be asked to manage people, kindly refuse and offer to lead them while managing the processes.

Have you ever been to a training course to learn how to manage people? What did you actually learned?

Photo: Shutterstock, Inc.

Categories: Leadership

Tags: ,

4 replies


  1. Holiday Special – The Best Posts Of 2014 | The Geeky Leader
  2. Physical Distance In Management Matters | The Geeky Leader
  3. 12 Principles Of Agile For HR Professionals | The Geeky Leader
  4. The Most Difficult Thing In Management – The Geeky Leader

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: