Merge's Blog

Thermometer vs thermostat – the difference between management and leadership

One question I get asked a lot is “What is the difference between management and leadership?”  Which is not surprising, given that my leadership development consultancy is called “Turning Managers Into Leaders.”  If any of you have attended my live sessions, you’ve heard me give the answer many times.  Which is:

Management is what you do, leadership is how you do it.

difference between management and leadershipGood managers are accomplished at getting tasks done, checking things off their to-do lists, attaining results.  All of which are commendable, and necessary.  Excellent leaders are skillfully talented in accomplishing the same outcomes, but through others.  So it’s not just about getting it done, it’s about how they get it done – through other people; by tapping into the energy and potential of employees who are motivated, high-performing ambassadors for your brand.

difference between management and leadership

Another way I often describe the difference between the two is that managers are like thermometers and leaders are like thermostats.  Let me explain.

The difference between a thermometer and a thermostat

A thermometer measures the temperature in the environment.  It can tell you what the temperature is right now.  It gives you the information you need to determine whether it is warmer or colder today than it was yesterday, or the month before, or the month prior to that.

A thermostat goes further.  It can actually influence the environment.  If it is too hot, it can take action to cool things down, and if it is too cold, it can do the opposite.  It knows what temperature it wants it to be, and it can take concrete deliberate steps to get there.

The difference between management and leadership

Now consider managers versus leaders.  Managers can assess the current team environment.  They can measure and report on current results compared to the past, or to targets and expectations.  They usually have a very good handle on what is happening right now.  Which is needed, and quite frankly, very important.

But leaders take it further.  They are able to influence the team environment.  They can create change in organizations.  Not by changing people (because you can’t change another person), but by creating a team environment in which employees are inspired and given the necessary tools, and therefore choose to take actions to excel.  Because leaders focus on the “how”, the vast majority of their employees are highly-motivated and above-average performers. Leaders don’t just look at the present, they also actively focus on the future.  And they accomplish those future results by thoughtfully and deliberately developing their people.

So, are you a thermometer, or have you made the transition to thermostat?  Have you mastered the difference between management and leadership?  If it’s easier to reflect on someone else, think about someone you previously or currently reported to.  Was s/he a thermometer, or a thermostat?    I’d love to hear from you.  Tell us more about your experiences, and why, by adding your comment below.

I’ve blogged frequently in the past about the difference between management and leadership. Here are some of the more popular posts.

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