1 Great Distinction Between Managers and Leaders

Wise leaders appreciate the value of great management and understand the difference between management and leadership.

This is not an article that lifts up leaders and devalues managers. Management is an essential function, and managers are highly valued members of the team.

It’s an important partnership in any organization.

Fluid teamwork within this partnership essential. Leaders should be free to go in any direction without managers impeding that progress. However, the key leaders must remain in sync with their management team, or managers will not be able to deliver on their vision.

To experience the benefits of this partnership, it’s important to know the differences between the primary functions of management and leadership. And while great leaders are wise to understand the value and function of management, that isn’t always the best use of their time.

We could make a lengthy list of the different functions of management and leadership, but I’d like to focus on one primary distinction.

Let me give some context and then practical guidance. First, yes, we all “get things done.” In fact, we all spend much of our days getting stuff done. But there is a significant difference between the routine tasks we all do (leaders and managers) and those key moments when a leader makes something happen.

Management (largely) deals with the successful execution of something already in motion.

Leadership sets something new in motion:

  • Leaders cast the vision for something new.
  • Leaders pick up the phone and set something in motion that didn’t exist.
  • Leaders establish relationships and create partnerships to forge new territory.
  • Leaders meet new people asking the Holy Spirit to reveal Kingdom purposes.
  • Leaders pitch a new idea that creates change in the church.
  • Leaders shut things down to clear a path for something new.

Leaders make things happen.

“Making something happen” is not always about something large, grand and public.

  • A leader may quietly go behind the scenes and solve a problem with a generous financial gift.
  • A leader might discretely have a strategic conversation that brings healing and forgiveness.
  • A seasoned leader may have a tough conversation with a young leader to help them succeed.

In each example, two things happened: change and progress.

You might be thinking, “Managers can do that stuff too.” Yes, managers who lead.

5 Guidelines to Help You Make Things Happen:

1) Exercise honest assessment about what you have recently “made happen.”

What is in motion that if you hadn’t started it, it wouldn’t exist? Make a short list of what you’ve done that is purely leadership (set things in motion) in the last six months. From that list, what is working as you hoped? Did it last? What progress is being made?

Some leaders are constantly in motion, but never cause motion. Activity is not the same as progress. Movement toward the vision is essential.

Don’t get caught in the trap of busyness. Merely doing the same things over and over again won’t help you gain momentum, no matter how hard you work.

The point is not to merely think up stuff to do. It is to assess the needs of the church (campus or department) in a way that identifies the single next step that most helps progress to continue.

2) Avoid random activity, it never helps.

Be crystal clear about the direction you are headed, and at all costs avoid distractions that cause sideways and ultimately wasted energy.

When a leader starts something that is “new and shiny” but has little to do with the progress of the church, it’s essentially a waste of time. It’s often just another program, event, or something not clearly aligned with the mission.

It’s easy to become bored with the basics of leading a church, but it’s the consistent execution of doing the right things in the right way that produces the greatest results.

As one leader put it, “it’s the blocking and tackling” that allows the offense to move the ball down the field.

It’s important to know how every ministry, every event, every gathering is connected and points to the next step in an individual’s spiritual journey.

3) Get out in front in at least one area.

Again, we all have to get stuff done, including some little things. That’s part of the practice of leadership, especially when we include finishing what we start.

But don’t become so consumed in your lists of stuff to do that it prevents you doing the one thing you need to do. Busyness as a leader isn’t impressive, it’s just exhausting.

And don’t put yourself under unnecessary pressure to “make 7-8 things happen every month.”

Ask yourself this question. In what one thing, (maybe two or three things) at most, am I “out in front” and leading the way? Meaning, if you don’t make it happen, it simply won’t happen. That’s where your value as a leader greatly increases and you need to focus your attention.

4) Absorb the pressure that comes from saying no to lesser priorities.

I personally find that my greatest hindrance to remaining consistent with the practice of making things happen is saying yes to things of lesser importance.

It’s necessary for me to say no to less important things that gobble up my time, to make room for what is most important.

If I don’t think I have time to get off the “busyness treadmill” it’s time to say no to something. I’ll admit that’s not always easy for me. I like people and want to be helpful, but one strategic thought – decision – and corresponding action can out-perform dozens of helpful deeds.

As leaders we have to exercise consistent discipline in saying no to many of the good things that we want to do, in order to allow time for the few things we need to do.

Sometimes it’s essential to say no, even when it’s painful.

5) Create a team that helps keep you focused and making progress.

No leader can be effective in a growing organization without a called, gifted, aligned and committed team.

If you’re a leader with lots of ideas, you like change and variety, and perhaps struggle with strategic thinking and follow-through, build a team that can and will help you turn the dreams and ideas into reality. One at a time.

If you’re in a smaller church, invite 3-5 volunteers who are high-capacity business leaders in their fields. Ask them to help you stay focused and “make the right things happen.”

If you are in a larger church, you can select a few of the right staff members to come alongside you to keep you focused and making consistent and measurable progress toward the vision.  

The truth is that it’s easier and makes us feel good to stay busy checking things off a to-do list, than to focus on a few key priorities that make progress and lead the church forward.

Whatever it takes, make the right things happen.

14 thoughts on “1 Great Distinction Between Managers and Leaders”

  1. As always, I am inspired and reinvigorated reading from you. Thank you, keep going. God bless you.

    My take away from the wonderful piece.-
    1. All great leaders are good managers, but not all great managers are good leaders.

    2. Managers get things done; leaders make things happen.

    3. Some leaders are constantly in motion, but never cause motion. Activity is not the same as progress. Movement toward the vision is essential.

    4. It’s easy to become bored with the basics of leading a church, but it’s the consistent execution of doing the right things in the right way that produces the greatest results.

    5. As one leader put it, “it’s the blocking and tackling” that allows the offense to move the ball down the field.

    6. I personally find that my greatest hindrance to remaining consistent with the practice of making things happen is saying yes to things of lesser importance.

    7. No leader can be effective in a growing organization without a called, gifted, aligned and committed team.
    Build a team that can and will help you turn the dreams and ideas into reality. One at a time.

    8. Whatever it takes, make the right things happen.

    Dan Reiland, please could you do a write up on Work-life balance for a Ministry worker (pastor)

  2. Great thoughts, Dan.
    It seems like several of these thoughts reflect an entrepreneurial visionary. Are there other areas that Organizational and People Visionaries May need to pay additional attention to?

    1. Hi Ed,
      Good insight and great question. I think you are right, there is a slight leaning toward entrepreneurial visionaries in the post. But in general, I think the bottom line is the same. “Managers get stuff done, Leaders make things happen.” I’ll have to give some thought to what things other visionary types might need to focus on.
      See you soon.
      Dan

  3. Dan, I cherish our partnership and the opportunity to learn by serving together here at 12Stone. I’m posting a takeaway from our conversations that could be helpful to others.

    We routinely talk about the importance of cooperation between leadership and management, with this key observation:

    “Leaders should be free to go in any direction without managers impeding that progress. But, they must stay in sync with their management team, else managers will not be able to deliver on their vision.”

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