the shape of leadership

Seven Differences Between Leaders and Managers

And why both roles are important in ministry

There’s a lot of debate these days about the difference between management and leadership. In fact, throughout the world of books, blogs and podcasts, leadership is alive and well, while management often takes a back seat. Sometimes management is looked down upon by leaders who are ready to take the next hill.

However, a closer look at leadership and management makes it clear that both are essential to a healthy ministry. Stephen Covey once said, “Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.”

One is not right while the other is wrong. You need a leader to set the church’s direction, and you need a manager to help you get there.

So, what differentiates a leader from a manager? While the list could be long, I will summarize seven primary differences — and explain why both roles are vital to your church.

1. Vision vs. Details

Church leaders clarify, capture and cast a vision for the future. They are forward looking and have the ability to inspire others to join them in pursuing a preferred picture of the future.

Managers focus more on the details of what it takes to bring about the vision. They connect the dots between where we are and where we want to go.

2. Risk vs. Stability

Leaders are inclined to take bold risks that leverage new opportunities for impact. They’re more willing to let go of what is and step into what could be.

Managers prefer a sense of stability. Rather than creating constant change, managers prefer to do what’s tried and tested, what’s familiar and proven.

This is why leaders and managers need each other. Leaders help managers keep from getting stuck in old methods and traditions, and managers help leaders keep from running off the edge of the cliff with the latest idea.

3. Effectiveness vs. Efficiency

Leaders do the right things, while managers do things right. Leaders are focused on ministry effectiveness, whereas managers focus on efficiency. Leaders prioritize, while managers are precise.

When these two strengths are combined, you get more of the right thing.

4. People vs. Processes

Leaders generally focus on people and teams in the church. They have the ability to attract new talent, motivate entire teams and develop leaders for the future.

Managers tend to focus on the church’s processes and systems. They are masters at creating the systems that ensure the ministry runs smoothly.

What shift do you need to make to become the leader or manager God created you to be?

Combined, leaders and managers maximize both talent and tasks.

5. Coach vs. Correct

Leaders coach and develop others. They have the ability to see the best in people, draw it out and apply it to the vision.

Because managers lean more toward policies and procedures, they tend to correct and direct others. They want to ensure the guidelines are being followed.

If not handled appropriately, frustration can grow when a person who is strong in management oversees a person who is strong in leadership.

6. Delegate vs. Do

Leaders delegate responsibility. They are often quick to let go of tasks, programs and initiatives by empowering a member of the team to step up and lead.

Managers lean more toward doing. Simply put, they get stuff done — often lots of stuff. That’s part of what makes them so valuable to a church team.

7. Growth vs. Goals

Leaders focus on future growth. They are rarely content with the way things are today. They see new ground to be taken and new opportunities to be seized. For leaders, growth is a moving target. There’s always room to grow.

Managers focus more on goals and objectives. They create specific, measurable, time-bound goals.

The leader’s growth mindset ensures the manager always has a new goal to strive for.

So, which one do you lean toward? Are you more of a leader or manager? Both are essential, but your role may demand one over the other. That was the case for Moses. Before Jethro came along, Moses acted more like a manager. He did everything, and his focus was on solving problems rather than developing people. As a result, he was on the verge of burnout.

In Exodus 18:17-18, Jethro said to Moses, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.”

That was the catalyst that caused Moses to shift into leader mode. He recruited people who could lead groups of 10, 50, 100 and 1,000, and then he released responsibility and authority to each one.

Perhaps you need to do the same. Or, maybe you’re in the wrong role altogether. Maybe you’re cut out for a management role, but you find yourself stressed and strained by the demands of leadership. On the other hand, maybe you’re gifted to lead, but you find yourself drowning in the management details of your role.

Again, every leader needs a manager, and every manager needs a leader. Combined, every vision can find a path forward, and every team can reach its full potential. What shift do you need to make to become the leader or manager God created you to be?

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