Ken Jacobs

Seven Critical Differences Between Managing and Leading

By: Ken Jacobs | September 12, 2017 | 

leadershipAs an executive coach, I follow posts in the leadership space on a daily basis.

In doing so, I see many experts using “leadership” and “management” interchangeably.

I disagree. Vehemently.

While “everyone” (business owners, entrepreneurs, corporate executives, agency leaders to name a few) must tap into both management and leadership skills, they’ll be more successful if they understand the differences between them.

Here are seven.

Management is Things; Leadership is People.

Specifically, we can manage processes, budgets, operations, calendars, production schedules, and so forth.

But when it’s about people, it’s leading, not managing.

If you’re thinking about managing people, you’re getting off on the wrong foot.

Because when you manage things, you’re in charge. With people? To quote Borat, “Not so much!”

Management is Facts and Figures; Leadership is Feelings

Many of my clients say, “I wish I could take emotion out of my workplace.”

What a shame.

The human beings whom we lead have both thoughts and feelings.

We can and should tap into both to motivate and inspire them to take the actions that will drive themselves and our organizations to new heights.

Truly effective leaders are keenly aware of their team members’ thoughts and perceptions, and give them reasons to be energized, positive, and optimistic about their joint futures.

Rather than attempting to remove emotion from their organizations, successful leaders are mindful of the emotional state of their followers and are conscious of sharing emotional energy that’s calm, centered, and constructive.


Emotional states, whether negative or positive, are contagious. Choose positive!

Nearly All Leaders are Solid Managers

Most executives are promoted into positions of leadership because they’ve proven themselves as managers.

However, too many managers are promoted into positions of leadership not because they’re good leaders, but because they’re great at being PR, social media, or social PR pros, at client service, and building up business.

Those are estimable skills, but they’re not necessarily leadership.

And I know. I was one!

(Okay, I’m being a little hard on myself, as many of my clients are former employees. But if I’m honest…)

Management May Be about You. Leadership is about Them!

At a certain point, you figure out how to create a schedule, whether a production schedule, a workflow chart, or an editorial calendar.

You know what it takes to plan and execute with excellence. And you can bring it all in on budget.

Leadership is different because it’s all about them, the individuals whom you’re leading.

What inspires them? What motivates them (or as some would suggest, how do you empower them to tap into what motivates them?)

You Need Different Leadership Styles

You may be leading two people or a dozen. Or dozens. Or more.

And you need to create a customized leadership style for each.

Why? Each has somewhat (or very) different values, a different worldview.

Each has different dreams for themselves, and even different dreams for your organization.

Obviously, each has a different view of their role in achieving that vision.

The more time and thought you put into creating a bespoke leadership approach for each staffer who reports to you, the more leadership success you’ll have.

If that sounds like a lot of work, you’re right! And it’s well worth it! 

We Don’t Just Lead Others

It’s important to remember leadership is about getting the outcomes we want for our organizations, our team members, our peers, our stakeholders, and importantly, ourselves.

So self-leadership is a critical part of the equation.

Leaders should continually ask themselves if their actions are in sync with their values and priorities, both organizational and personal.

They should consider if they’re truly helping others in their organizations to succeed.

And they should make sure they’re taking care of themselves.

To misquote (Read: mangle) Shakespeare, a leader can’t lead others without leading oneself.

(OK, that’s not at all a difference between managing and leading, but this is my article!)

One Thing Leadership and Management Have in Common

Whether we’re a manager, a leader, or a manager en route to being a leader we must keep improving via professional development.


Business is rapidly getting more and more complex.

We bring new individuals into our organizations all the time (hopefully that’s because we’re growing our businesses, and not because we have a retention issue!)

New generations are joining the workforce.

Technology brings new challenges, and new opportunities, daily.

As you strive to keep up and get ahead, remember your business is about people.

They yearn for leadership from you.

To do so effectively, you must be sure your knowledge and skills in this area are up-to-date.

Leadership isn’t about the impressive title, the corner office, or the big salary.

While many leaders ultimately get those material things, they’re not signs of true leadership.

If you want to know if you’re a leader, just turn around.

Do you see a team of inspired, motivated followers who are “in the boat” with you, and see their roles in achieving the vision you’ve created for your organization?

Then you are a leader!

About Ken Jacobs

Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching, which empowers PR and communications leaders to breakthrough results via executive coaching, and helps communications organizations achieve their goals via consulting and training. You can find him at,, @KensViews, or on LinkedIn.

  • KensViews

    I’m honored that you shared this on SpinSucks. I trust it brings value to our community of which I’m proud to be a part. For the record, this doesn’t mean that @ginidietrich doesn’t have to call me on Sunday for my BIG birthday. She absolutely, positively has to, and I’m calling on @CorinaManea and @LauraPetrolino to make sure that this happens!

    • She can’t call you on holidays, and this is obviously a holiday.

      I’ll call you though, and sing really loud to make up for it.

      • KensViews

        She HAS called me on holidays, including the Tony Awards and the Jewish High Holidays, AKA Holy Days. So she clearly MUST call me on the holiday which celebrates my birthday!

        • OH that’s right, she can only call you on High Holidays. I got it messed up. So yes, she doesn’t have a choice. You win this one.

          • KensViews

            Sometimes being right is its own reward.

      • I can’t decide if his 80th birthday is worth a phone call from me or not.

        • KensViews

          If you don’t call, YOU WILL BE NOTHING TO ME. I’m freaking out. At least put Beanie on the phone!

  • This is such a great breakdown and a must read. One thing I’ve also found is that often the very skills that have made you successful in your career to date are actually the skills that prevent you from being a good leader. So at least for me, it’s been a bit of a re-learning of how to be a professional in general.

    • KensViews

      Thanks, Laura! And you’re right: Since the things we’re good at are related to the things we’re not good at, since our “positives” are related to our “negatives” it makes sense that the things which makes one a good PR, communications, marketing, advertising, content, digital, or social (Have I gotten them all?!) practitioner might prevent one from being a good leader. It starts with awareness..

    • Carol Ludtke Prigan

      I agree, Laura. Many of us learn to be good managers then get promoted to lead a team. It’s a learning curve!

      • KensViews

        Thanks for commenting, Carol. And what you point out is a shame. I’ve seen senior AEs who clearly were future leaders. I’ve seen EVPs who couldn’t lead. We should train our potential leaders as early as possible, so by the time they’re actually leading, they’ve honed their critical skills.

  • Clearly I should go back to controlling who can, and cannot, write for us. Who let the riff raff in?!?

    • KensViews

      Clearly, there is a cause and effect relationship between your ceding more authority to @CorinaManea and @lkpetrolino and the quality of SpinSucks content!

      • KensViews

        @corinamanea:disqus and @laura_petrolino:disqus I think it’s time for you to fire Gini. Again!

  • Bill Clifford

    Ken, Great article!

    I totally agree with you that there is a difference. The interesting thing is is that leadership traits vary from leader to leader. Some are great motivators while others are more compassionate and understanding. However, each empowering leader I have learned from each have a couple things in common:

    1. They listen more than they speak.
    2. Will to grow – personally, not professionally.

    • KensViews

      Excellent points, Bill. Thanks!

  • Julia Carcamo

    Such a great post! So many times I’ve seen people placed in roles because they could do some THING, but then failed because they either couldn’t manage the department or lead the team. As leaders we must understand how to build bench strength so that team members
    can advance. Thanks for sharing.

    • KensViews

      Thanks, Julia! A related issue is that great PR/Comms/Social/Marketing Pros who manage well (Accounts, Production Schedules, Budgets,) and who are able to bring in and grow business (Estimable skills indeed!) are promoted into positions of leading people. This requires an entirely different skills set. Some have it. Too many don’t!

  • Great piece, Ken.

    For me leadership is about the vision and the mission.

    It’s about caring for your people, listening to them and inspiring them to join your mission.

    Because, in the end, true leadership is about inspiring people to take action.

    • KensViews

      Yes, indeed @corinamanea:disqus I’m speaking on Critical Skills for Leaders at PRSA ICON’s Leadership Rally in October, and among those I’ll focus on are Vision, Inspiration, and Empathetic Listening.