Management Versus Leadership

While leadership overlaps with management, let’s clarify some differences to see what the environmental movement is missing.

By no means am I suggesting one is better, only that transforming culture requires both and I see a lot of sustainability management but virtually no sustainability leadership.

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Managers use skills like analysis, planning, record-keeping, and organization on readily measurable things, facts, figures, observable deliverables, and timelines. A successful manager creates compliance. Well-managed teams get the job done.

Leaders use skills like listening, vision, support, charisma, and credibility on intangibles, emotions, beliefs, stories, images, and symbols. A successful leader inspires. Well-led teams love their work.

Managers work in the system, improving it to meet the values and goals driving it, making it more efficient.

Leaders work on systems, adjusting them, leading them to align with values and goals they miss.

Managers use incentives—carrots and sticks—based on the outcome desired.

Leaders help others do what they already want to but haven’t figured out how based on attracting and enlisting people whose goals and values align with the team and role.

Managers react to the values and goals set by leaders.

Leaders are proactive, figuring out what values and goals to prioritize.

A manager’s skills transfer between companies and industries. A manager can succeed without caring about what the team does. Managers get people acting. An effective manager gives people the satisfaction of a job well done.

A leader must do what he or she leads others to. A leader believes in the cause. He or she can rarely succeed at leading what he or she doesn’t care about, but the passion a leader feels for a cause makes the work rewarding and inspiring. An effective leader makes that inspiration infectious.


Well-managed, poorly-led teams and people may feel obliged to work hard at something they don’t care about. They may work for material rewards but not value them. They measure their success by how much they do.

Well-led, poorly-managed teams and people may feel inspired and passionate but not know what to do. They may feel frustrated with a present inferior to a future vision they aren’t moving toward. They may lack a meaningful measure of success.

Well-led, well-managed teams and people embrace the challenges and use the problems of today to motivate and propel them to a future they love by creating effective strategies and plans and acting effectively. They measure their success by how much they reach their potential.

I don’t know about you, but I see a sustainability movement at best well-managed but poorly led. Wouldn’t you love to be part of a well-led, well-managed movement? Not everybody loves to lead, but if you do, wouldn’t you love to bring leadership to this community? Wouldn’t you love being a leader of that movement?

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