When to lead, when to manage

  • Published
  • By Maj. Michael J. Edwards
  • 28th Maintenance Operations Squadron
Whether you are in a leadership position or acting in a follower capacity, one of the most introspective discussions is the difference between being a manager and being a leader.

In the military, leadership is stressed in every situation as "the way ahead" and all too often management is assumed to be an associated element. Today's Air Force requires all Airmen to accomplish extremely demanding missions with limited resources. In order to do that effectively, we must learn to become inspiring leaders and astute managers.

There are Airmen out there who don't understand the difference between leadership and management. My intent is to shed light on the differences between the two and give insight on when to use each in daily operations.

Basically, leadership is the process of accomplishing goals by motivating people while management can be defined as the process of completing goals efficiently and effectively through people. The biggest difference between a leader and a manager is how each focuses people. Both are very different and extremely important; you should know when to lead and when to manage.

Management exercises the control of subordinates to accomplish tasks. Managing utilizes planning, organizing, directing and controlling techniques in order to accomplish goals efficiently and effectively. With the very limited resources we have in the military, it's our duty to manage assets effectively. As we move into the future, we have been charged with doing more with less. That means many of those limited resources we are responsible for maintaining now become increasingly important day after day. Finding the balance between capabilities, requirements and pushing to accomplish new goals can only be understood through effective management. In order to accomplish our duty as Airmen, we must learn to become strong managers to sustain our efforts to be the best Air and Space Force in the world. 

Leadership, on the other hand, is the ability to express a vision, influence others to achieve results, encourage team cooperation and be an example. Leadership utilizes goal setting, coaching and empowering. Without leadership, effective management can't be established. Without management, effective leadership can't be maintained. It is not a secret; followers crave strong and active leadership. Keep that word in mind - followers. Leaders guide followers, managers guide subordinates. When an effective leader sets the tone and provides clear-cut goals, it helps followers to see the reason for the effort. Effective leadership has the power to inspire people. Successful leaders are committed to "creating a world to which people want to belong." Leadership involves managing relationships and communicating within a team to move towards a specific goal. Inspiring the troops is what leadership is all about. 

All Airmen have a duty to hone their leadership and management skills regardless of the position they currently hold. It doesn't matter if you're a field officer working in a staff position or a brand new Airman on the flightline, the opportunity to lead and manage is in front of you daily. It is imperative we understand the difference and learn to master both.

Simply put, resources need management, people need to be led. True leaders are not "bosses" or "commanders." Instead of power, true leadership comes from influence, congruence and integrity. So, next time you are charged to complete a mission, take the time to remember you must lead people to give them purpose, use management to focus the effort and attain the goal. This mindset is extremely important in today's Air Force culture and tomorrow depends on every Airman's talent to make it happen.