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The difference between managing and leading in a charity


I was inspired to think about this blog by receiving an email from the Harvard Business Review collating several key works on the topics of leadership and management.  They note in weighty tomes that there is a difference between the two which is something most of us already understand, I suspect.

Backed up by no academic research whatsoever but fed by experience, anecdote and the thoughts of several, very experienced, close colleagues and friends, here are my common sense thoughts on leadership and management in the not for profit world:


  • Leaders have a passion for doing the right things
  • Inspiring others in the organisation to do the right thing in line with the organisation’s culture and valuesWinston Churchill - free image
  • Doing what you say and saying what you mean
  • Buying your own coffee and not claiming it back on expenses whilst driving cost-cutting measures for every other department – hypocrisy is a big ‘no’
  • Knowing the names of the most junior people and key volunteers in your organisation because you want to, not because management books say you should
  • Accepting that you don’t know everything about everything and building a strong team around you to ensure the best outcomes possible for the organisation
  • Decisions based on beneficiary needs first, staff and volunteer needs second; your ego, never
  • Spending time with beneficiaries and developing empathy with them that is factored into decisions and activity
  • Doesn’t need a big job title… anyone can be a leader in their organisation
  • Not being afraid of the unknown
  • Leadership actions often speak louder than words
  • Understands that you need to take calculated risks to move the organisation forwards
  • Can make decisions with imperfect information – good leaders do not need 5 years of previous results to be comfortable making a call.


  • Managers have a passion for doing things right
  • Focus often on hitting targets rather than understanding where they fit in the grander visionManagers always busy
  • Deliver reviews and appraisals and other people processes
  • Dotting i’s and crossing t’s
  • Having to keep lots of plates spinning… multi-tasking is often a pre-requisite
  • Keeping yourself, your team and your organisation out of court
  • Acting as a buffer (sometimes a barrier) against top-down pressures for teams
  • Being great with spreadsheets
  • Possibly earning less than your commercial sector peers
  • Act as the sanity/reality check for the leadership team (invaluable in many organisations)

Even though the first list might look a lot more inspiring, we do need both roles to be effective so let’s not beat up the managers!  Let’s just encourage them to acknowledge leadership skills and utilise as many as possible to make them better managers  (and vice versa of course).

And of course the most successful individuals I’ve come across in all the organisations we’ve worked with have skills from both groups

There are lots more serious and certainly some tongue-in-cheek observations to add so do let me know what you think.


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