The Shrinking Difference Between Leadership And Management

The difference between management and leadership used to be very easy to delineate. Alan Murray, the author of The Wall Street Journal Essential Guide to Management: Lasting Lessons from the Best Leadership Minds of Our Time, writes that “The managers job was to plan, organize, and coordinate. The leaders job was to motivate and inspire.[1]” Managers managed resources through edict or memorandum to a metric or a set of metrics, leaders led resources through inspiration to achieving an outcome or a goal. Some Agencies would go so far as to bestow titles on both their managers and their leaders, while others opted for a less structured organization.

In today’s world leadership and management have lost some of that separation. Murray contends that, “People look to their managers, not just to assign them a task, but to define for them a purpose. And managers must organize workers, not just to maximize efficiency, but to nurture skills, develop talent and inspire results.[2]” I can’t help but agree with him based on just the past 5 years of seeing freshly minted providers come into the field with less preparation as those who came in before them, and even the providers 10 years back really weren’t coming in too prepared.

When writing this post I originally titled it “Leadership vs. Management“. After drafting it, pondering, and editing I decided to change the title. Leadership and Management are not in opposition to one another. A leader does not necessarily have to be a manager and, similarly, being a manager does not automatically make you a leader. To be truly successful in this day and age you do need to have skills from both toolboxes.

What remains dangerous is the assumption that because someone is good at one, that they would automatically be good at the other. A good manager is not necessarily a good leader, and a good leader does not necessarily make a good manager. Making this assumption in terms of the food service industry, a good server does not necessarily make a good chef, and a good chef does not necessarily make a good server. While they both work in the food service industry, their roles in a restaurant are quite a bit different.

This is an assumption we often make in EMS. We think that a good provider who can manage an airway will make a good supervisor. We promote them, give them some basic instruction, and then wonder why they don’t know everything there is to managing people. We forget that they’ve had plenty of practice in the classroom managing airways to meet the standard of a model airway. When they got to the field they were able to manage the airway. Granted, that first, second, and probably third managed airway may not have been the prettiest airway, but they managed it, learned from it, and improved upon it. Each improvement brought them to the point where they were able to match the model of a managed airway that was already presented to them. If we just judged their ability to manage airways by that first and second airway, we’d be wondering why they don’t know everything there is about managing airways.

As the differences between managers and leaders shrinks we need to be able to marry the two. While it may not be pretty the first few times, we need to believe in those who have been selected to lead AND manage others. More importantly is that we must give them a model to strive for and set the example for them at every chance we get.

If the providers have been coming out ill prepared for the reality of working in the Emergency Medical Services, then we need to make sure their Manager/Leader is prepared to help them succeed. The failure of one results in a failure, at some level, of all.

[1][2]What Is The Difference Between Management And Leadership?
The Wall Street Journal
Alan Murray

About Dave Konig

Dave Konig has been a career EMS Provider since 1995 and has acted in various supervisory/leadership roles since 1997. His leadership experiences includes time as a Field Training Officer, a Field Supervisor, an Operations Manager, a Communications Manager, and as the Director of Operations in New York City and its surrounding regions. In addition to his career experience, he has also been elected to various leadership positions at the Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps where he continues to volunteer, serving the community since 1994.
He maintains his personal blog at and you can follow him on Twitter @DavidKonig.


  1. Amy Eisenhauer says:

    I think current Leadership/ Managers are also responsible for identifying prospective new leaders/ managers and providing them with the education and mentoring needed to be able to fill that role, quite like learning airway skills.

    • I absolutely agree with that Amy, but then reality sets in. How often are there EMS Leadership classes during an acceptable time frame and that is within budget means when a new supervisor/manager is appointed? Usually new supervisors/managers are appointed to fill a vacancy. Sometime the old supervisor/manager is still around, perhaps having been promoted themselves, so they can be available to provide some mentoring but chances are they may be coming to grips with their new position themselves so they may be struggling to balance both.

      I think its important to identify those with leadership qualities early on. Provide them with the education opportunities, the mentoring, and the constructive feedback BEFORE they find themselves stepping into the supervisor/manager position. I feel that I need to stress the word opportunity, because not all leaders necessarily want to be supervisors/managers. Forcing someone to do this when they are not naturally inclined or desire to is a real problem that we see today. As the differences shrinks between the leaders and the supervisor/managers, we need those who are willing and able to become knowledgeable and therefore become effective.

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