Seth Godin on the Difference Between Leadership and Management

Bestselling author Seth Godin says that “Management and leadership are totally different things. You think you are being a leader, but you are probably being a manager.” I agree.

He goes on to say, “Managers figure out what they want done and get people to do it. Managers try to get people to do what they did yesterday, but a little faster and a little cheaper with a few less defects.” But this is not leadership.

What is leadership? You’ll have to watch this seven-minute video to learn more.

By the way, I will be hosting the backstage interviews at the Chick-fil-A Leadercast again this year. I will be interviewing Seth and numerous other top-notch speakers and leaders. The event will be held on May 6, 2011. If you haven’t registered, I’d encourage you to check it out.

Question: Do you agree or disagree with Seth? If so, why? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Jerry

    Thank you for sharing the video. Seth makes some great distinctions between the 2 words and it’s worth putting more thought into how I lead or manage people.

  • http://twitter.com/NDisbro8 Nathan

    I agree with this 100%! I have somewhat disdain for the term manager- it conveys the message that the manager barely manages to get by. Manager seems to be a term that is intrinsically self motivated, but a leader tends to be selflessly motivated. A true leader works for subordinates to enable them to have the tools to excel and exceed the objectives placed before them. A leader takes care of the team, so the team can take care of the mission.

  • Joe Lalonde

    Seth gave some great information in this video.

    The first being “Sometimes you have to fire your customers”. I first heard this at my current job. Some coworkers were talking about how you sometimes have to let a customer go. Coming from a retail environment, that thought blew my mind. In that setting, it was always about pleasing every customer. I think we’re seeing the downfall of a lot of retail stores because they’re unwilling to fire certain customers.

    The other point that really resonated with me is that we’re on a “race to the bottom”. That’s the train of thought I’ve been raised with. “Why go with the more expensive item? The generic will do the same thing”. I understand that the generic item will normally work the same as the more expensive version. However, the more expensive one may last longer or be made with American parts and labor or etc… Or “Why buy a CD when you can get the MP3 for half the price”?… I think this one is about the experience. Opening up a new CD can be exhilarating. Flipping through the pamphlet is great, holding the physical media is awesome.

    I think finding the thing to get the customer excited will be the thing that gets up to RACE TO THE TOP rather than the bottom.

  • Jack Lynady

    Did anyone else pick up on the references to how we practice our faith?

    At the 4:00 minute mark, he says “the idea of building a building where everyone goes to do what they are told…is a new idea” (paraphrased). Is there implications here for the Big “C” church and the small “c” church? 

    • Jack Lynady

      I guess what I am asking, Is there anything relevant in what he said here for us as “church leaders”? For me, there definitely is. 

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  • http://www.walkwiththewise.wordpress.com Gail

    Why is it that leaders seem to look down on managers? Maybe it’s because “leadeship” is a big fad in business at the moment. Yes, I agree leadership and management are different. But I don’t agree that either leadership or management are better. They are different. They each have their place. Every leader benefits from the managers who follow them and manage resources so that the leader’s visions become reality. Let’s not forget that great managers have their own special skills and talents and do things that most leaders can’t do, and do it persistantly, constantly, year after year. As I leader, I am awed at what great managers bring to our business, things outside my mental space and skill set.
    Leadership and management are different and both are needed for success.

  • Roger Brady

    Intrigued by the assertion that managers decide where they want to go and get people to do it. True in terms of tactical, day-to-day actions that need to be taken, but Leaders must provide the vision which is the strategic course of an organization. There may be a lot of ways to “manage” an organization’s way to a goal, but establishment of the goal has as much to do with leadership as management. I guess I’m suggesting that while management and leadership are very different things, the line between the two is not always as bright and clean as sometimes implied. The leader, whom I assume will be accountable for results, must be deeply involved in the “what are we doing” along the way. My experience in large organizations is that accomplishing the goal is very much a team sport, but if it goes wrong and there is accountability to be determined the leader will find himself/herself alone in the arena. The trick is to be engaged in ways that are helpful to both the people and the mission without stifling the development or innovation of the people at lower levels in the organization.

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  • http://twitter.com/CoachCyndy Cyndy Lavoie

    This is a great interview. I so appreciate the delineation made between managers and leaders. What strikes me is that managing, while difficult and a skill set all its own, takes less courage than leading. Which is why we tend to resort to it as a base-line denominator, our default setting so to speak, when we are too far past our comfort zone or things are getting messy. I know for me, to show up as a leader, rather than a manager takes more of ‘me’. I have to show up more engaged from my core, with greater focus and passion, and I am not always so sure how I am doing. It simply isn’t as easy to quantify the effects of leading as opposed to managing… something a little too nebulous that leaves us nervous. Personally I am naturally more of a leader than a manager though, so going forward I take encouragement to consistently be a leader, refusing to default to manager, and I know that I will be more settled, and those I am serving will experience me in a consistent manner. Thanks for posting this, simply fabulous!

  • http://twitter.com/CoachCyndy Cyndy Lavoie

    This is a great interview. I so appreciate the delineation made between managers and leaders. What strikes me is that managing, while difficult and a skill set all its own, takes less courage than leading. Which is why we tend to resort to it as a base-line denominator, our default setting so to speak, when we are too far past our comfort zone or things are getting messy. I know for me, to show up as a leader, rather than a manager takes more of ‘me’. I have to show up more engaged from my core, with greater focus and passion, and I am not always so sure how I am doing. It simply isn’t as easy to quantify the effects of leading as opposed to managing… something a little too nebulous that leaves us nervous. Personally I am naturally more of a leader than a manager though, so going forward I take encouragement to consistently be a leader, refusing to default to manager, and I know that I will be more settled, and those I am serving will experience me in a consistent manner. Thanks for posting this, simply fabulous!

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  • http://twitter.com/wechoose1 Les Dossey

    Seth doesn’t mince words, nor get hung up in non interesting stuff. That’s what makes his writing and interviews so relevant, powerful and attractive.
    Without mentioning our Very Cool and Wise Creator™ Seth explained how to align your role and your business with God. So much of what is done in traditional business is about binding people instead of freeing them to create, to make mistakes, to strive for higher levels of this and that.
    Leading by artistry – Beautiful!

    • http://twitter.com/BobEwoldt Robert Ewoldt

      Leading by artistry… that’s an interesting concept. You don’t think of the artist-type as the leader-type, but I think it can be true.

  • http://twitter.com/wechoose1 Les Dossey

    Oops – hit the comment button twice.

  • http://www.convenientcalendar.com Android Calendar

    Most people who are managers are not true leaders, and when someone who is below them that is a born leader, they tend to be harder on them, it is ironic when a coworker who is a born leader has more influence over others in their department, that can lead to a lot of conflict if the coworker who is a leader is not wise about what he or she does or says!

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  • Steve Sorensen

    Seth Godin is right, but the problem is that it’s much easier to train managers than to liberate leaders, and people tend to do what’s easier.

    I first saw the lesson Seth is teaching about the radical difference between leaders and managers about 20 years ago. I worked for a company that did a great job of creating managers who kept crying out for employees to be leaders. The problem was that the dominant paradigm was to manage employees for more work at less cost. Groupthink prevailed and demonstrating leadership was actually risky in that environment. Both sales and profitability slipped until the company ended up downsizing by eliminating the jobs of the longest-serving employees, in order to improve the financials and make the company attractive to a buyer.

    A leader has to be willing to risk security, but few are willing to do that. A great illustration of that comes from a friend of mine who teaches a class in entrepreneurial leadership at a university. She sometimes brings entrepreneurs into the classroom to share their experience. She says that often, the first question these university students who “aspire” to be entrepreneurs ask the visiting business owners is, “Are you hiring?”

    • http://brucelynnblog.wordpress.com Bruce Lynn

      For every company like the one you describe, Steve, I can show you a dozen dot.coms, Enron-clone, financial institution speculator, oil company corner-cutters that show all the ‘leadership’ in the world according to your and Seth’s definition. They ‘risk security’ every day. The result is calamatous causing pain and hardship for countless individuals.

      Effective stewardship, must be a balance between ‘leadership’ and ‘management’.

      I’m also bemused by your comment on the university students. Are you being intentionally ironic that the students supposedly trained for entrepreneurship are seeking a spoon-fed pay-check route to such an exciting environment? Or are you underscoring their naivte that those students so eager to join the leadership-inspired start-ups have a higher chance of being unemployed when the business goes belly up (as most start ups do).

  • http://twitter.com/BobEwoldt Robert Ewoldt

    I’m intrigued by his idea of firing your bad customers, because that seems so counter-cultural, but I think he’s right; if you fire the 20% of your customers who are causing you the most headaches, then you can devote that time to nurturing your better customers.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_R2O56G4YY6XBIHYQBE2A7AG6QE James

      @Robert – The idea of firing customers really struck a nerve with me too! I’ve seen organizational resources wasted and time and energy figuratively flushed down the drain in a futile attempt to satisfy customers who are both insatiable as well as low value in terms of revenue generated.

      Since energy and time are finite, the opportunity cost of spending so much time dealing with customers who aren’t generating profit for the organization is that we ignore those who are helping the organization move forward and grow.

      This is another reason why target marketing is important! Seek out the customers who you are able to help by expending the least amount of energy.

      The difference between managers and leaders is that leaders know that the right people make all the difference in the success of the organization. In order to free yourself of crippling managerial duties so you can focus on more of a leadership role, it’s important to realize that picking the right people goes beyond just your subordinates: It extends to include the people with whom you do business as well!

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  • Kim Levings

    You can get the job done today with managers. You get to the final destination by having leaders. Managers can manage really, really well and go nowhere. Leaders can lead really, really well but they still need managers to help along the way. Totally agree with Seth on this one!  Too many managers think they are leaders simply because of the job title, but let’s not overlook that leaders can sometimes be lousy managers. A final result is only as good as the management of the steps along the way.

  • http://christopherbattles.net/ Christopher Battles

    Thank you Michael and Seth.
    The terms get used as if they are the same, which is not a good thing.
    Thank you for expanding on this.
    I just Buffered this for tomorrow.

    K, bye

  • http://twitter.com/alec_watson411 Alec Watson

    I absolutely agree with Seth on the difference between leaders and managers. The world needs both, in fact everyone has the potential to be both a great leader AND a great manager. Unfortunately, in today’s world we see people in leadership position who are anything but great leaders. I would recommend anyone in a leadership position or aspiring to be a great leader take 6 or 7 minutes every day and watch this video and remind themselves of what it means.

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  • http://christopherbattles.net/ Christopher Battles

    I heard the phrase “managers are not leaders” awhile back and it stuck with me.
    Thanks for reposting this.

    K, bye

  • Mark Mansfield

    I agree to some degree with what he says, on leadership against management I agree with all. 

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  • http://twitter.com/SoLuGa Socorro Galusha Luna

    Amazing. Say what you believe and see who listens. Be a leader, not a manager.

  • http://www.pauljolicoeur.com/ Paul Jolicoeur

    Why hadn’t I heard that before! Awesome!

  • http://digitaldomination.com/ Steve Fitzpatrick

    The thing I love about Seth Godin is how he can inspire your imagination to new things. Thanks for sharing this Michael, I’ve not got a weeks worth of solid ideas to make a difference.

  • http://www.TheArtofDiscipline.com/ Craig Desmarais

    So inspiring.

  • Nico Engelbrecht

    I like the part where he says that a “Leader” start something, but then he let’s the “Management” take it over and run the thing (snippet from my own thoughts – while the “Leader” is at the steering wheel)

  • danieltrinidad82

    So I thought I was just managing people…I didn’t know its leadership…hmmmm. Thanks Seth and Mike for clarifying the difference of leadership and management.

  • rachel

    Amen…Seth you are a breath of fresh air in a polluted world…my cup runneth over with your words…thank you!

  • Brett Smith

    Completely derailed my intended plans for the New Year. I have leaders’ dreams. I have a manager’s role.

  • Terrie Coleman

    This was great. I attended this Chick-fil-A Leadercast 2011 at a local a simulcast gathering. Great experience. Love his last comment, “Say what you believe and see who follows.”

  • Melinda Todd

    Thanks for having Seth! “Say what you believe and see who follows.” I like this. A. LOT. I needed to hear that.