Best Interview Question Ever: Leadership vs. Management?

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During a recent phone interview, I was asked “What’s the difference between leadership and management?”

Have you ever stopped to think about it? I’m a little embarrassed to say that I haven’t.

I think I muttered something about servant leadership, and how as a manager I’ve always tried to make it possible for those who report to me to have fun and be creative in solving problems, and I’ve seen my role primarily as obstacle-remover. And that as far as leadership goes, it doesn’t need to be tied to management, and it’s about setting direction and giving guidance and so on.

I was curious, so after I answered, I asked my interviewer what his answer would be. (I have a habit of doing that in interviews. Some people find it unnerving, but I like conversational interviews.) He had a very articulate answer about how leadership and management are separate things, and how leadership was about advocating for a position or a direction from any role, and how management was about managing and cultivating resources. (I’m not quoting him directly, but that was the gist of it.) Good answer, I thought, and one not too far from my own, so… whew. :)

But now I turn to you, dear readers: how would you describe the difference between leadership and management?

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  1. Posted March 10, 2009 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Here’s how I’ve always explained it: Management is like herding chickens – you do it from the rear, with a long thin twig of some sort, and you try to keep all the hens on the same path. To the hens, you are a major irritant, and the hens to you are an endlessly repeating challenge.

    Leadership, on the other hand, is done from the front, and requires significant *mutual* trust; you must trust that they will follow, and they, your followers, must trust that you know where we’re all going.

  2. Brad
    Posted March 10, 2009 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Management: making them do it.
    Leadership: making them want to do it.

  3. Kate O'
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Great answers, both!

  4. Posted March 11, 2009 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    leadership is taking people somewhere, managment is keeping them somewhere.

  5. Erick
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I think Drucker said it best:

    Management is doing things right

    Leadership is doing the right things