The REAL Differences Between Leadership & Management and The Two Tools to Help You Excel

Marissa Levin
Marissa Levin
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I recently attended an exceptional Young Presidents Organization (YPO) learning event where Steve McLatchy, author of Decide: Double Your Results, Reduce Your Stress & Lead By Example, spoke.  Many people speak at a high level about the differences between management and leadership, but few articulate it well. Steve nailed it.

Leadership is a result you produce.  If things are exactly where they are when you arrived in a “leadership” position, then you’re providing maintenance, not leadership. A true leader never “arrives” at leadership. The moment you’ve arrived there, you are a manager, and in maintenance mode.

In a nutshell, leadership = improvement, and management = maintenance.


Management is comprised of all of things you have to do. It’s an endless to-do list. If you don’t do it, and it’s on your list, that task will eventually find its way back to you. You can’t run from your maintenance list. It shows up and says, “deal with me!!”


Leadership on the other hand includes all of the things that you “want” to do. It’s the strategic planning, the connecting, the learning, the recharging, the growing. It does not find you if you don’t do it. Instead it goes undone.

Because your management and maintenance list will never end, will always include tasks that are “urgent” and “high-priority,” and will continue to grow and grow – forever – it’s REALLY easy to put off your leadership items indefinitely.

Consequently, you’ll work extra hard to stay in the same place, in a reactive, fire-fighting mode. Personally, I know that there are many times when we have to put out the fires. In 20 years of business building, I have faced some potentially deadly fires that would have consumed my business if we didn’t give every moment we had to fighting them.

However, those stretches of fire-fighting time are temporary. To really push a company forward, a leadership team has to invest in the activities that build up the organization.

So how does a leader integrate what we want to do with what we have to do? Speaking as someone with an insatiable thirst for learning and connecting with others, we have to schedule it – while we are still tackling our to-do list. We have to make our leadership list part of our daily life.

There are three primary reasons for doing this:

  1. We have to stay connected to the outside world to stay relevant. If we have our heads down, only reacting to what we “have” to do, we will lose our relevance and our value.
  2. Running on the non-stop treadmill of maintenance is exactly what leads to burnout. Constant fire-fighting will exhaust even the strongest leader because you’re working hard but not improving. To recharge our strength, and fortify us for our daily fights, we have to get out of the daily grind and into situations that inspire us, challenge our thinking, and provide communities of support. Learning days like the one I attended are mini vacations from the daily grind. Plus they make us even more valuable to our clients.
  3. Maintenance and management stops you from going backwards. Improvement and leadership pushes you forward.

Striking a balance

The most effective leaders learn to strike a balance between the “want-to’s” and the “have-to’s.” How can you achieve this?

It’s easy. Take the leadership improvement part of your life off of the to-do list and put it on your calendar.

The Two Tools

This brings me to the two tools we can all use to manage our time and create a management/leadership or maintenance/improvement balance:

Your to-do list

Use your to-do list for all of the activities that you have to do. They are going to get done no matter what, because they will find you. Your to-do list will help you itemize them in order of priority, and remind you of all the “stuff” in front of you that never ever goes away.

Your calendar

Use your calendar to commit to those activities that you will delay or ignore because they aren’t “urgent” items on your to-do list. If you really want something done, move it to your calendar.  This includes anything that falls under Improvement:

  • A learning event
  • A networking event
  • A personal day to recharge
  • A strategic planning session
  • A golf outing with your executives for team-building and appreciation
  • A lunch with a friend to touch base with “reality”
  • A meeting with a mentor, your Mastermind group, or your Forum
  • A regularly scheduled working session with your Executive Coach

How do you work on your business? Commit to the time! When something is on our calendar, we defend it. It doesn’t move. It’s etched in stone. We modify to-do lists all day long… we add things, take things off, move them around, and even ignore them. Calendars stick.

Leaders make more decisions from their calendar than they do on their to-do list.

We all use these two tools every day. Now you can be more thoughtful with how you use them, and what results they will deliver for you.

Your Call To Action

Are you ready to move from maintenance to improvement, and from management to leadership? One of my favorite aspects of transformational coaching is equipping my clients with the tools, strategies, and mindset to make this pivot. I would love to learn about your specific leadership blocks, and work with you to move you past them.

Please email me at [email protected] to schedule a 15-minute Skype session to discuss your biggest leadership obstacle.

Good luck with the balance, and keep moving forward!

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