Management vs. Leadership: What’s the Diff?

I attended a wonderful breakfast today for the Women’s Business Exchange, an innovative networking group that goes beyond just business building topics to areas of balance, leadership and…well, SOUL. Today’s speaker was Michelle Clements, Senior VP of Human Resources at REI, the outdoor sports and apparel retailer that my husband single-handedly must keep in business. She spoke from her years of experience about the differences between management and leadership.

She showed us a brilliant – and moving – video of different REI employees holding up signs about what they want from their leaders (things like “Communicate a clear vision” Inspire me” or “Develop me”). Michelle observed that some of the people seemed to say what they already had in their managers, while others were almost crying out for help that they were lacking these qualities from their supervisors.

What makes a “leader”? Michelle first defined management as “delivering predictable and key results results” while leadership “provides/delivers dramatic and useful change.” Leadership is about inspiring a future vision and moving people towards it not because they are being “told to go” but because they believe in the mission and walk on their own accord. Leadership is about exploring new territory, creating alignment, establishing direction and inspiring commitment. Management, she says, is a very important function needs to focus on creating order from complexity – planning and budgeting, organizing and staffing, controlling and problem-solving. But not all managers are leaders.

We also discussed some leadership myths, including:

  • Leadership is a skill you are born with – this implies that leadership is not accessible to anyone who wants to learn it, and she feels this is wrong. People can learn the skills of leadership and grow into the role.
  • Title and rank implies leadership – this one seems obvious, as we’ve all had managers who were inconsistent, indecisive, or control freaks -  and wouldn’t even be able to inspire a thirsty person to drink a glass of water in front of them. Leadership can come from even the lowest levels of the organization, if they are living the company mission, walking the talk, and inspiring others. Michelle said some of the most inspirational leaders she’s seen at REI were part-time workers who get out into the community and live the company’s values, thus inspiring others.
  • Leaders must be charismatic and extroverted – again, Michelle feels this myth boxes people into to not achieving their dreams. Many leaders can be introverted and less outgoing – if they communicate, inspire, empower and walk the talk by example. She feels you can adapt leadership skills with any personal style you have.

In many ways, leadership has a lot to do with branding: consistency, clarity and walking the talk/living the values. if your leaders can align with the brand as well, all the more powerful for creating a loyal workforce, loyal customers and happy quarterly sales results.

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