when to lead and when to manage your team silloutte jumping between words

Your Team: When to Lead and When to Manage

Looking at the title, you might be scratching your head. You might have even read it two or three times to make sure you’re reading it correctly. Your inner voice may also have said, “Aren’t leading and managing my team the same thing?”

Well, you would not be wrong to think that way. After all, a lot of people think that leading and managing are the same. In fact, the words “leadership” and “management” are often used interchangeably in most organizations and companies. Many of the same people are tasked with leading as well as managing these organizations. This blurs the line even further and creates confusion when differentiating between the two positions.

However, it’s important to understand the differences between the two concepts, so that you can become a better manager or a better leader. You can improve these distinct skills and utilize your understanding to create a harmonious and productive work environment.

Knowing The Differences

First, let’s start with the differences. This will help to clarify and provide a solid foundation for understanding when to explore each one.


A leader guides their team to a shared vision. This “leading” often involves inspiring team members, empowering them, setting the direction, and fostering the right environment for growth.

A manager is responsible for the day-to-day operations of a department, team, or organization. This means that they are involved in organizing and managing resources to achieve specific goals, all while doing so in an efficient manner.


Leadership is about totality. The focus is the qualitative outcomes. Leaders are engaged in building and maintaining the right teams who actively display the abilities to achieve the organization’s vision. They also foster a sense of purpose in the team members so that they can utilize their full potential.

Management, on the other hand, is about quantitative measures. Managers are engaged in the fundamentals of daily operations, such as providing structure, assigning tasks, employment decisions, coordinating resources, organizing workflows, and more.

In other words, leadership is about the “what” and management is about the “how.”

Change vs Stability

Leaders embrace innovation and seek to push boundaries to see what’s possible. Leaders tend to possess over-achieving skills and will not settle for the mediocre. They are quick to identify opportunities for growth, anticipate future challenges, and navigate their team members through difficult times.

Managers are concerned with stability considering they are involved in the day-to-day operations of an organization. They ensure that risks are mitigated and each day and operation continues to run smoothly.

When to Lead and When to Manage

Now that we have a solid understanding of the basics, let’s explore when it’s appropriate to manage or lead.

1. During A Crisis

During a crisis, such as a pandemic, there are two key aspects that must be addressed. The first is making real-time operational decisions, and the second is considering the human factor in those decisions. Both aspects are interconnected and must be deliberately considered.

Decision making requires you to be the manager. For example, during the pandemic, most organizations had to pivot to new ways of doing business. They had to reorganize their workforce, analyze changing demand, set new expectations and goals for the team members, craft new plans of action, communicate new measurement practices for remote work models, and more. This is where a manager excels.

For the human factor, a leader is needed. They are the ones who can maintain employee morale, inspire team members to ride the wave of change, maintain confidence in the organization, communicate new visions and priorities, and get everyone focused on current and future goals.

2. Working with People

A leader understands what type of people and skill sets are needed to accomplish the overall vision of the organization. They can build and maintain the right teams for the right jobs. They also set a healthy company culture, which becomes a guiding principle for everyone within the organization.

However, even the right people need to be trained to effectively do their day-to-day work. This is where a manager comes in. A manager provides the necessary training, measures progress, delegates tasks, orients new hires, gives feedback, etc.

3. The What vs The How

Leaders are concerned with the what, while managers are concerned with the how.

As a leader, you need to set the vision and direction for your organization. This includes establishing new goals, setting a new course, and adjusting the company culture. For example, if a department needs a new direction, you need to envision and communicate that new direction. If changes need to be made in the company, you need to figure out what those changes will look like.

As a manager, you need to focus on the “how” of achieving your organization’s goals. This includes making sure your team members complete their work, delegating the right tasks to the right people, figuring out ways to boost productivity, and solving issues with systems or processes.

Balance is Key

The truth is that successful leaders and managers possess a combination of both skills. They are able to quickly switch from one to another based on what the situation demands. This ability takes some time to develop, but it can help you maintain balance between the two roles. Balance is key to your success and to the success of the organization. After all, a leader needs effective management to execute their vision, while managers need leadership qualities to inspire and engage their teams.

Are you looking to take your healthcare leadership and management skills to the next level? Contact Engagement Through Education today to learn more about our leadership development and management training programs. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you have and help you find the program that’s right for you and your team.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top