Leading v managing

A red theatre curtain with three actors silhouetted against it

Twice this week I was led to think about the difference between leading and managing.

The first was when I was trying to recreate my blog, having lost a number of posts from a previous incarnation when I moved from self-hosting to wordpress.com. Thanks to the Wayback Machine I was able to find them, and I came across an article I had done on LinkedIn about managing people. What struck me was the outdated language I had used. I use this analogy of the theatre a lot – I used it in an interview just last week – but in terms of leading, not managing. The difference in terms was striking.

The other prompt was a post on LinkedIn which had a venn diagram of tasks that are management and tasks that are leadership. I can’t find the post right now, but there are lots of images on Google that are broadly along the same lines – what is leadership, what is management and what sits in both?

I realised that when I did my first management course in 19-however-many-it-was, there was no talk of leadership. Nowadays, leadership seems to be the main focus of that sort of training, as well as much research (for example the work of the Centre for Workplace Leadership).

So thinking about my analogy and applying it to the difference between leadership and management, I wondered whether I could make it stretch further. And I think the difference is that leadership is theatre direction and management is theatre production.

For those that don’t appreciate the differences, the theatre producer (at least in the way we used to do it) is the person that gets the show up and running – books the theatre and the rehearsal space, runs the box office, manages the marketing, sets the rehearsal schedule. The director has the vision for what the play looks like – they give direction for production design, cast the play, run the rehearsals, explore the text and images with the actors.

Like leadership and management, there are overlaps and intersections. The director will have the vision for what the set looks like; the producer will set the budget for production and design which will impact how that vision can be brought to life. The director liaises with the producer to make sure the marketing material aligns with the artisitic presentation of the play.

And sometimes, the director and producer are the same person. I used to direct and produce most of the shows I was involved in. Having the vision and implementation in the one person was an effective use of resources. But sometimes the production was too big (musicals, for instance, or shows in 1000-seater theatres) and then you need to decide, am I the director here, or the producer? Where do my skills sit best? And who do I bring in so that our skill sets mesh and we cover off on everything we have to get done to make this happen?

As I manage my handover to my replacement, I’m thinking about what I do across a day/week/month. What should I consider management and what leadership? Which of the tasks are about Getting Stuff Done? Which are about energising the team, helping them to be and do their best and providing a sense of direction and purpose? I think from now on, I will find the director/producer heuristic a useful way of thinking about the differences between the two.

Published by Antonia

I'm a British citizen and European Union offical, who lives in Brussels again after 6 years in London and 8 in Melbourne. I went to the London School of Economics and University of Melbourne. In 2008 I took part in the Eisenhower Fellowship Multination Programme, the subject of 3 of my blogs. You can find me on Twitter as @antoniamochan or @antoniam

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