What They Teach Us: Simon Sinek’s Attempt At Weighing Leadership vs. Management

Leadership Lesson: Leadership and Management are different, yet equally vital and necessary. Understand them both. Respect them both.

Recently, while on LinkedIn, scrolling through the various groups and people in my feed of connections and groups I follow, I came across a post from the Start With Why – Simon Sinek LinkedIn page. It was a video clip in which Simon Sinek, the popular motivational speaker, marketing consultant, and worldwide lecturer, broke down the difference between leadership and management — or at least his own take on the distinction between the two disciplines.

Sinek, who is a bestselling author of various books on leadership, having sold millions of copies of each, has a strong following of “Sinek’s” and is always — ALWAYS — asking you to Start with Why and Find Your Why (the titles of his books).

I believe the work he’s done is both vital and empowering, as he’s pushed people to consider the deeper meaning behind their why? – their reason, purpose, and drive for their life, work, businesses and products.

So, far be it from me to take anything away from the guy.

But something just stood out as overtly off about this post, something that just seemed so obviously egregious and almost flippant.

But before diving in, knowing the importance of full context behind any opinion, and so no one can say that this post has taken anything out of context, below is a transcription of the entire clip as he posted it. Simon says:

“So, what’s the difference between management and leadership?

Management is the manipulation of others for personal gain.

Think about the people who we felt managed by. Nobody wants to wake up in the morning to be managed. We want to wake up in the morning to be led.

Leadership is the responsibility — the awesome responsibility — to see those around us rise. It’s a different skill set entirely. We’re not being driven by how to use others so that we can get stuff. We try to see ourselves, how we can use ourselves, to help others rise.

That’s what leadership is. 

It’s much harder than management and it takes a lot more work and a lot more studying, which is why leadership really is a hard skill and great leaders really, really, really work at it.”

Here’s the clip itself:

So, in considering the clip, although it’s under a minute, there are so many pieces to address and break down.

1. The power of seeking context as a viewer – Sinek’s devotion to leadership

This bullet is mostly a disclaimer: None of this is to bash Sinek or any of his other work.

In general, I think it’s important to reflect the respect you have for someone overall before you disagree with them completely in a moment over something they say or convey. In this instance, I was just caught off guard by what he said in the post.

Nowadays, especially in politics, people are likely to dismiss someone completely for one part or component of their message. In this case, I’m not diminishing Sinek or any of his work based on this one slip-up.

Therefore, it’s important to express not just an empty criticism but a summary of any justification, reasoning, or merit behind your disagreement.

2. The responsibility of providing context as the messenger: He should have said a little more.

Usually, anyone giving an opinion should clarify what they mean.

I feel Sinek should have given a little more information than he did, so as to not ostracize any particular idea. If this were a live interview, and he gave this same breakdown, coming up with it on the fly, maybe I’d forgive him (yes, this cuts deep), but because it’s a prepared video, you’d assume he knew enough to think about what he was saying before he posted it.

(Then again, this probably does reflect his true interpretation and understanding of the topics. Either way, I would still disagree with him)

So, have you identified what I might be talking about yet? Here’s the actual line that took me aback:

“Management is the manipulation of others for personal gain.” And in describing leadership, in comparison to management, he goes on to say, “We’re not being driven by how to use others so that we can get stuff.”

I think management deserves a bit more respect.

Back to the bullet points.

3. Management and Leadership are two different but equally important disciplines.

Sinek is making it sound like management and leadership are two sides of the same coin, an either/or choice, but they are separate disciplines – two separate currencies — deserving of the same level of value, worth, and respect.

It’s on each of us to understand what each means, what our environment needs of each, and how we can design their co-utilization where their best attributes overlap like a Venn diagram or can be balanced for effectiveness as if on a scale. How are you factoring in or balancing the use of the two?

As much as I loved studying leadership, subsequently working with leaders and continuing and refining my ongoing education and ideas on it today, leadership is nothing without management. More on that in the next bullet.

I get where Sinek’s coming from — you can’t get anything done without having the leadership in place. But, for me, that’s not at the expense of management. He’s making it sound like you can only have one or the other. I appreciate that he stresses how important leadership is, but he should do it without denigrating management.

4. Is leadership really much harder than management?

This part, from the last paragraph in his video, is the other part I take issue with:

“That’s what leadership is. It’s much harder than management and it takes a lot more work and a lot more studying, which is why leadership really is a hard skill and great leaders really, really, really work at it.”

That seems like an over-generalization.

As much as I love leadership, studying it as a perennial student, I wouldn’t take anything from management. From one person to the next, how they lean, toward either one or the other, is going to differ. If we consider management being strictly the systems and mind, and leadership the heart and encouragement, to each of us, one or the other discipline may come more naturally. But, overall, I would say both disciplines are equally important. It’s up to each of us to study the one we lack in, in order to balance both.

5. As always, cull the advice you come across.

Even though my take is that something is off in what he’s saying, we can still take relatable ideas away from his message.

For instance, we can all remember times when we didn’t like only being managed, merely coordinated to get the job done (my definition) without any connection as to why. Yes, most people don’t like merely being managed. That’s why the disciplines have to overlap so that attributes from both management (the system, the process, the mind) and leadership (heart, drive, passion) are co-utilized for effective communication and execution of the objectives.

In the end, each one of us has our own, different take of how we see things. We have our own interpretations of how we utilize ideas and theories and refine our approach.

Without leadership, management can provide you with effective systems in place but no ability to encourage people to want to use them effectively or evolve toward betterment of themselves, the group, or mission.

Without management, leadership can give you all the heart to guide and encourage others but provide no idea about how to tap into that effectively in the actual work processes.

So, Sinek, who can lead his followers to believe more in leadership, should avoid dismissing the effectiveness of management, and…manage his message a little better.

Share CiO
Hide Buttons