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Is There a Difference Between Leading and Managing?

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Is there a difference between Leading and Managing?

The term leadership often is confused for management and is used interchangeably. 21st century research and practice is delineating the expertise of each domain, however, and defining them differently.   At Attuning.Org we define leadership as mobilizing resources for socially constructive change. Management includes the necessary technical and creative skills to keep a group, organization, or state running. The difference is that leadership requires the pickup and movement of where an organization in a process of adapting it to the current environment and moving it into another place within the environment. Management keeps the system in place but works to improve its efficiency and operations.

This is not to say that a leader isn’t sometimes a manager and vice versa. However, by defining our terms more deeply, we can then determine how best to exercise leadership and management depending on the challenges that need to be addressed.

One of the first steps a leader must take in considering change is to diagnose the situation. This is perhaps contrary to the way many people are taught. They believe that jumping into action is rewarded. This immediate action, however, can lead one down the wrong path and consequently cost a great deal in time and effort. Taking time to diagnose a situation, akin to a physician diagnosing an illness of a patient, allows more data to be collected and then an opportunity to move into action steps. As any scientist would do, a leader runs experiments with change to see what works and what does not. He or she then re-evaluates the change efforts to pursue the path or tweaks the effort and tries again.

Today’s leaders must understand the context in which they want to impact change. There is no prescription or rubric that can be followed to lead; but there are approaches to exercising leadership that may improve the chances of successful outcomes. Contextual leadership allows for an individual within a family, group, community, or state to try to influence change and in fact these types of leaders (sung and unsung) are do so every day.

In the next blog posting, we will consider the difference between technical versus adaptive challenges that need to be identified to best address the work that must be done.

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I'm Erik Gregory. My academic specialty is positive psychology, a field that examines healthy human functioning such as courage, hope, optimism, and happiness. I served as the Director and Chair of the Organizational and Leadership Psychology program at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology where I launched the world’s first doctoral degree in Leadership Psychology. My passion is to promote adaptive leaders to meet 21st century economic, political, social and environmental challenges.

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