Episode 28: NBN Minisode Leadership vs. Management

December 12, 2019

by: Sheela Nimishakavi

I’m thrilled to launch the Nonprofit Boss Network and to share with you tips and strategies for becoming a better boss. One thing you might be wondering is, “Am I a considered a boss?” The way I see it, you are a boss if you supervise anyone- whether it’s a group of volunteers, an intern, one person, a department, or if you lead an entire organization.

The skills that it takes to effectively lead are similar regardless of how many people you’re supervising or managing. But there are important differences between managing and leading. There’s also a time to manage and a time to lead.

However, that doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. In fact, all organizations need both leaders and managers in order to succeed.

Leadership vs. Management

These two terms are often used interchangeably. We talk about managers or directors being a part of organizational leadership, and as team members we regard the person in charge as our leader.

Because of this, we often get the sense that these two words mean the same thing but they are actually very different and understanding the differences is important if you’re going to become a standout boss

People may regard you as a leader because they have to- based on the organizational chart, you’re technically above them. When you’re truly a leader, it means that people want to follow you, not because they have to but because they choose to.

Understanding that there are differences between leadership and management helps us clarify expectations. When you think of the responsibilities of the executive director of a nonprofit, you likely will include things like vision, creation, future-focus, and organizational growth in their basket. But when you think of the responsibilities of a manager, you’ll likely include things like planning, organizing, and monitoring.

When we define a leader versus manager in this way- based on the tasks or responsibilities- we can begin to see that being a leader or a manager has nothing to do with job title, or organizational charts. It’s really about who embodies the qualities of a leader or a manager.

5 Distinctions of A Leader versus a Manager

The first distinction is one you may have heard before- leadership ensures the right things get done whereas management ensures things get done right. In other words, leadership focuses on strategy whereas management focuses on implementation.

Another distinction is that managers solve problems, but leaders ensure the problem doesn’t occur again. What this means is that when facing a problem, someone acting as a manager will merely see the problem at hand and work to solve it, but this is short sighted thinking. Someone acting in a leadership capacity, will look beyond the short term and ask what the root cause of the problem is so that the problem is essentially eliminated.

The third important distinction is that managers control risk, whereas leaders take risks. Risk sounds like it would always be a bad thing and that everyone would want to avoid it, but I’m also sure you’ve heard the saying, more risk more reward.

Someone acting as a manager works to minimize all risk- both good and bad. Of course, it’s not helpful to be reckless, but some level of risk is necessary for growth. On the other hand, leaders are willing to take calculated risks in order to reap the rewards. They evaluate the downside and determine whether the reward is worth the risk.

The fourth distinction between managers and leaders is that managers report on value whereas leaders create value. By nature of the tasks associated with being a leader- creativity and strategizing for the future- leaders determine ways to create value. Managers, on the other hand, are charged with implementation and monitoring, so they merely report on the value being created.

Finally, the fifth distinction between managers and leaders is that managers delegate, but leaders empower. When managers delegate, they assign tasks to those on the team they know can get the job done. But when leaders empower, they challenge those around them to stretch their capabilities and grow as professionals. It takes more time on the front end to empower staff, but in the long run everyone benefits.

When to lead and when to manage

Although it might appear as if acting as a leader is always the best option, it’s not. There’s a time when it’s appropriate to lead and there’s a time for managing. Fortunately this means that one person can be both a leader and a manger, they just need to know when it’s the right time for each role.

Whether it’s the right time to lead or manage depends on the situation that you’re in. If we think about all the situations an organization faces as falling along a spectrum, we could define either end of the spectrum as stability and crisis.

When your organization is experiencing stability and the situation is looking great, this is the time to act as a leader. When things are good, you have the freedom to let your staff make mistakes and develop solutions.

But, when your organization is in crisis mode, it’s time to manage. You don’t have the luxury of allowing your staff to test things out- instead, you have immediate problems that need to get solved.

The best thing you can do as a boss, is check in with yourself as each new situation arises and consider the following questions:

First determine if this situation falls on one end of the spectrum- is your team or organization in or nearing a crisis? If the answer is yes, then you know it’s appropriate to act as a manager.

Second, if your situation is a more future-focused strategic situation, when is your deadline? This is important to determine because even if you have a long time to attend to a situation, at some point it can turn into a crisis.

Lastly, ask yourself: how can I empower my team in this situation? Are there tasks that I’m taking on, that, with a little training and guidance, I could empower my staff to take on?

In conclusion

My goal here is to get you thinking about how you can utilize these two skillsets- management and leadership- to be a great boss. When you understand the differences, and when to apply leadership and management appropriately, you can truly increase the impact you have in your organization.

Press play to listen to the episode and get some clarifying examples. Afterwards, reflect on these questions regarding your own style as a boss. Are there times when you manage but perhaps the situation is better suited to leading? Are there times when you lead but you should really be managing?


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