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Management vs. Leadership – Or is it?

By Randy Hall

Last updated: October 11, 2022

Management vs leadership in veterinary practices

It’s hard to work with veterinary practices without addressing the issue of management versus leadership. Much debate has been had about what each of these words means and which one is more important. Recently, I’ve even heard a lot of discussion about the issue of individuals leading too much and not managing enough.

One example of that is a recent article from Harvard Business Review that states:

“Big picture only” leaders often make decisions without considering the constraints that affect the cost and time required to implement them, and even when evidence begins mounting that it is impossible or unwise to implement their grand ideas, they often choose to push forward anyway.

Abuse of Power?

Leadership has become, for some, the idea that you sit atop the practice and gaze upon it from a lofty perch where you make disconnected decisions and advance your own ideas.

That’s not leadership - or management - that’s simply abuse of power.

The very notion that the focus of leadership is on the actions of the leader is flawed. Leadership is about others. It’s about being the catalyst for great things to be accomplished by those who otherwise might accomplish less.

The Definition of Leadership

When I work with veterinary practices, this is how I define leadership:

Leadership is causing individuals, teams, or practices to achieve more of their potential in a positive, sustainable way.

With that perspective, someone who makes uninformed decisions from a detached position isn’t a leader. Those decisions don’t cause employees to achieve more. In fact, they often result in hampering the success of the practice.

Leadership isn’t about authority. When we associate being a leader with having a position of power, we start the discussion in the wrong place. 

While it’s true that great leaders often achieve positions of authority, it’s also true that positions of authority are sometimes occupied by those without the faintest idea of what real leadership is.

Management in Your Practice

It’s impossible for a leader to help a practice accomplish more if he or she doesn’t understand the culture, goals, challenges, and opportunities of the practice. That would be like a coach trying to lead a team to victory without knowing the rules of the sport. 

That’s why it’s impossible to lead without being a capable manager.

Management is about the mechanics of the role. It’s about the tasks of executing a job where others report to you.

I can’t win a bike race without understanding how to shift gears. I can’t fly a plane without knowing how to use the instruments. I can’t lead a practice without understanding the details of its operation.

Great management skills alone will not make you a great leader. But it’s also impossible to be a great leader without having great management skills. Management is not separate from leadership; it’s a component of it.

Closing Thoughts

If you are going to lead any individual or team, you must first understand the intricacies of the challenges they are facing, the barriers to their success, and how their current level of skill matches the tasks of the job. Only then can you help them accomplish more. 

Great managers understand those details. They immerse themselves in the practice in a way that gives them the understanding they need to lead it effectively.

It’s time we stop thinking of management and leadership as separate and opposing skills. Until we start thinking differently about this, we will continue to develop leaders in our practice who are too detached. Likewise, we will develop managers who focus on metrics more than the people who generate them. Both are fatal in the long run.

What do you think?
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