illustration of 4 people on bicycle
August 16th, 2016

“You Manage Things; You Lead People”

This bit of wisdom from a fortune cookie resonated with me instantly, and now has a permanent place in my office to serve as a daily reminder. It draws an important distinction between management and leadership.

Steve Jobs once said, “Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.”

In Jobs’ context, the distinction is between persuading and inspiring, and management has a negative connotation. Indeed it should if you’re talking about trying to manage people. Only things need to be managed. While management and leadership are often thought of as at odds, they’re actually two critical components, and there’s an appropriate place for both. In the words of Peter Drucker, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Both are integral parts of brand success.

Why is the distinction important?

As part of a brand strategy, design, and experience team, my job is partly to manage my accounts—the day-to-day systems and structures that keep the wheels in motion. I also help lead clients through stages of development, offer creative advice, and take an innovative approach that inspires them to make decisions or changes. There’s a key difference between how I approach those things and the people with whom I work. All the stuff can be managed, but you’ve got to get the people behind you to further the purpose.

As the steward of your brand, distinguishing between leading and managing the process can help you increase efficiency and effectiveness. To create brands and experiences that people love, your team needs a leader to set the example, illustrate the pathway, and inspire others to join in the journey toward the goal. You also need managers to do the planning, organizing, and coordinating. Taking stock of how and where you are managing vs. leading can reveal where changes can be made to gain a competitive advantage. Your brand ecosystem extends beyond the office doors, so an internal culture or structure is often reflected externally and can affect the way your brand is perceived and received. Unless your employees love the company first, no one else ever will.

What is the management part of the balance, and what’s the leadership part?

Managing can be thought of as the HOW, while leading is the WHY. There are those people and organizations that may have inspired or original ideas, but are never able to execute because they are missing effective management. And then there are those lacking leadership—while they may be busy, nothing truly meaningful is accomplished because they aren’t working toward a clear goal or larger purpose. The ideal balance involves a combination of focus on the now and vision for the future. Achievements are built from a series of smaller steps along the way—big thoughts pave the way for the actions that then take them forward.

To attempt to manipulate and position individuals to reach an end goal is working against the current. Instead of persuading people to do things they don’t want to do, why not show the way by example and encourage people to follow of their own volition? It requires less time and energy, and because you’re tapping into others’ will, they are personally invested, the process is more meaningful, and the end result is ultimately better. Your job is to make it all happen on time and on budget, and if you can manage the things through your people, you will be the leader of a more effective system.

“True leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders.” – Tom Peters, co-author, “In Search of Excellence”

The key is that brand success is about people, and leading rather than managing them. You’ll get a more favorable result if you can identify and harness the difference. When you clearly define the WHY—the true purpose of the brand—for your people, the HOW follows naturally and authentically. It all starts inside the brand ecosystem, with a team working together to move the brand forward. True motivation comes from love, passion, and belief in the goal. People are empowered by a strong purpose, and will work harder if you’ve got somewhere important to lead them.

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