leadership signpostHow do you lead?

Do you lead with an open heart or closed heart? With only the end in mind or in every moment along the way? With the intention to enhance others or just yourself? With your ego or your soul? With seriousness or with humor? With bravado or humility? With greed or with magnanimity?   Mindful or mindless?  Fearful or fearless?

The Difference Between Management and Leadership

There is often confusion about the difference between management and leadership. My simple distinction is that management is what we do and leadership is how we do it.  We manage budgets, hiring processes, product releases, mergers and acquisitions and financial returns.  How we do those things defines who we are as leaders and is what has the largest impact on results.  How we lead comes directly from inside us, from our character and our values.

Are We Teaching Leaders The Right Things?

Much of leadership development focuses on what we manage. When I first became a manager at IBM early in my career I spent a week at the Management Development facility in Armonk, New York. For eight hours a day, five days I was riveted by what I was learning: performance evaluations, managing difficult employee relations issues, managing a budget and managing the process of terminating an employee should that be necessary.

When I left New York at the end of that week I knew exactly what to do as a manager. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had learned how to manage, but not how to lead. It was several years later, after continuously facing the inevitable humanity of the workplace (things like someone coming to terms with their failures, someone’s career aspirations not happening because of their fear of failure, someone’s spouse dying, someone dealing with a crisis of confidence while they were learning something they had never done before, someone’s son being diagnosed with AIDS), that I began to understand that my tool box was only half full.  The “whats” would only get me so far.

At that time, I noticed something else: I was mostly focused on tasks, not on people. I fully understood what was expected of me, what I needed to make sure got done and what measurements showed achievement or lack of achievement, etc. But the fact that all good things come only when people are willing to share their  creativity, intellect and desire was not something I understood. And I most assuredly did not understand that my role as a leader was to inspire this generous sharing, one person at a time. If I truly wanted to unlock the potential in the people that worked on my team, I had to learn to lead.

The Tao of Leadership

Later in my career with IBM I was put in charge of management development for a particular location of the company. There my understanding of real leadership was born when I received a life altering gift. I was given the book The Tao of Leadership written by John Heider by a management consultant whom I had hired to do some training for us.  I read that book and my understanding and passion for leadership was ignited. I never managed again, I led.  It was not easy. I had to come face-to-face with my own imbalances: my  fears, performance anxieties and needs of all kinds, (to be liked, to be in control) .  I had to  learn how to be silent, to be vulnerable, to stay centered even when my own buttons got pushed. 

Reading The Tao of Leadership was the beginning of my transformation from manager to leader. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching is one of China’s greatest books of wisdom. So, what is The Tao and where is it? Tao is pronounced, “Dow”. Tao means The Way. Michael Singer says it well in The Untethered Soul:  “It’s the place where there is no energy pushing in either direction. Everything has its yin and yang. The Way is the place in which these forces balance quietly.”

This is when I learned that the role of a leader is to create an environment that balances the needs of all and that this can, in fact, be done. We can balance financial, product, personal, environmental and community needs and be successful.  In the book Firms of Endearment, Raj Sisodia found that the companies that practiced these types of leadership principles out-performed the S&P 500 7:1 during a 10 year period.

What Changes Might You Expect If You Lead Instead of Just Manage?

What happened for me was that the results  that I used to try to “drive” began to happen without the stress and exertion that had characterized my previous efforts. I focused on being a vigilant observer and listener.  I learned that the volume and velocity of high quality results increased when I acted as a catalyst instead of being the one trying to do everything myself.  I began to partner with my teams instead of being their boss.  I stopped trying to have all of the answers and instead made very sure that I was asking the right questions.  And you know what else happened? I slept better, worried less, got promoted more often, laughed more and enjoyed my work more than I ever dreamed I could.

From Ordinary to Extraordinary

The ability to manage is critical for achieving goals, no question. But the difference between ordinary enterprises and the extraordinary ones  is when they are managed by leaders. We have to focus on developing both in our leaders.  

Here is how you can tell which you are developing:  Management skills are developed from the outside in: strategic planning, product road maps, budgets. Leadership skills are developed  from the inside out: empathy, self-awareness,  communication skills, inspiring others.

Learn to integrate management and leadership seamlessly and you will have found the Tao of Leadership and you will joyfully watch as your teams deliver extraordinary results.

Sheila Madden is the CEO of Madden Coaching & Consulting where she coaches and consults with leaders of high growth companies, individuals wanting to live an extraordinary life and young professionals who are ready to launch their careers with competence, confidence and character.

2013 Copyright Madden Coaching & Consulting. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Reblogged this on Leadership Musings of a Skeptical Positivist and commented:
    As much as there is a focus in modern media around the differences between leadership and management, it’s always good to revisit first what we understand to be this critical difference, and second, our approaches to developing the individuals (including ourselves) who find themselves in leadership roles. Sheila Madden’s post is a great reminder of this, and while all leaders don’t need to be developed in the same ways or along the same skills/traits/topics, I’d encourage you to read through the article. Thanks for posting this, Sheila!

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