Leadership | management | authority

Like a lot of people, I was promoted in part because I demonstrated some leadership skills when performing at in an entry level position. Where we run into trouble is thinking that having leadership skills means that you have management skills. That’s not necessarily true. I learned this the hard way in a series of very thorough, exquisite, cringe-worthy fails as a first-time manager. (Story-telling reserved for another day.)

Another misconception is that you gain authority through management. Have you ever seen a manager struggling with little power or control? We all have.

Leadership =/= Management =/= Authority

Let’s take them separately and consider other terms most closely associated with each.

Leadership. Direction, initiative.

Management. Responsibility, oversight, processes.

Authority. Power, control, decision-making.

There is naturally some overlap, yes. I would never suggest that these concepts are mutually exclusive. But neither are they synonymous.


Someone with leadership may have potential for management. But can they translate their demonstrated initiative into oversight of others, and does that mean they can understand underlying strategic intent of processes, beyond just implementing processes well?

Someone fulfilling a management role is in an ideal position to exert authority when necessary. But do they actually have the skills to do so? Can they translate responsibility and oversight into sound decision-making and getting control of a problematic situation?

These are not linear concepts, either, which is why I presented a Venn diagram rather than something like a Chevron diagram. For example, someone with excellent leadership skills can be granted authority by their team or peers, even if that person is not in a management position to have responsibility for oversight of their work.

Making these distinctions allows teams to better articulate where problems lie and what might be the best way to address them. These distinctions also allow individuals to hone skills in the appropriate categories for professional growth and development.

By the way, that sweet spot in the middle? Hopefully your executives have that trifecta 😉


Come on! Tell us what you're thinking.

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