Managing vs Leading

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If I aspire to be in a leadership role, how can I get there? What should I do to get myself to be identified and placed in such a role? How do I communicate my ambitions and experiences when I’ve taken on leadership responsibilities but don’t have the title to show for it? If you find yourself asking these questions, this is the episode for you.

As an ambitious high achiever, you have probably taken on more than your share of responsibilities at work. At first glance, the terms management and leadership may seem synonymous but in fact, each one requires a very different skillset. As we continue on the journey to sheer clarity, it’s important to not only be able to distinguish between the two but to ensure that you are embodying the key traits of a leader and creating value for your organization.

In this episode, Mathew and I investigate what it means to be a leader versus a manager. Mathew shares his experiences in his previous corporate career, and we talk about why a title is not as important as you might think, how to demonstrate and communicate your leadership abilities, key characteristics of a leader, what it means to create value, and so much more!

Once you’ve learned the differences between managing and leading you might be wondering whether you’re wired for leadership. We’re going deeper into this topic and looking back at your personality assessments as we explore that aspect next week. Until then, let us know: what has your experience been with communicating your leadership ambitions? Do you feel better able to demonstrate them? We look forward to hearing from you!

The one thing that I’ve always felt people just avoid doing is going straight in to my boss and point-blank asking the question, “Do you see me as a leader?” And finding out and getting the feedback.

J. Kevin McHugh

Key Topics:

  • Mathew’s frustrating experience with having an unofficial leadership role in his corporate career (2:09)
  • The catch-22 situation you can end up in when you are applying for your first official leadership role (3:05)
  • One key differentiator between a leader and a task-doer (5:26)
  • Why it’s so hard to get your first job in a leadership role (7:29)
  • How Mathew ended up with unofficial supervisory responsibilities (8:15)
  • The questions you might ask yourself about communicating your leadership abilities (9:06)
  • The difference between counting value and creating value (10:06)
  • What you should ask your boss right now to improve your leadership opportunities (11:24)
  • The essential connection between leadership and influence (12:19)
  • Distinguishing between a leader and a good manager (12:40)
  • How to demonstrate your leadership (14:30)
  • Why you should use the language of leadership (15:07)
  • An example of how you should talk about your leadership ambition and experience (15:44)
  • How to go from a task-doer to a leader (17:04)
  • Being good at your job doesn’t automatically make you a good leader (20:26)
  • Using coaching as a leadership tool (22:01)
  • Why initiative is an integral leadership trait (23:00)
  • And much more!
Speaker 1:                    00:01                Welcome to Sheer Clarity, the show that will teach you about leadership by attraction, building self-awareness, and how to develop exceptional self-management abilities that will help you become more reflective, more open, more trusting, and more engaging with the people who matter to you most. In other words, make you a better leader. Head on over to where you can learn more, subscribe to the show for free and connect on social media. And now here’s your host, J. Kevin McHugh. Kevin McHugh: 00:30 Hi everyone, welcome to Sheer Clarity. I am J. Kevin McHugh, the host. On the opposite end is my able body producer, Matthew Passy. Welcome to today’s episode, Matthew. Mathew Passy:             00:43                It is great to be here, Mr. McHugh. Kevin McHugh: 00:46 Well, thank you very much. This episode, you and I were talking offline about this idea of people who aspire to be put into a leadership role when they’re not already in one. Like how do I get there? Like what do I need to do to sort of get myself identified and selected and to be placed in some kind of leadership role? As we were talking, I just said, “Well, that’s a pretty darn good episode.” With that said, I would like for you to go ahead and share some of that conversation we were having. I thought your personal experience in that world was like awesome. For the listeners, this is where we’re going to go, we’re going to ask Matthew to lead today with a little bit of his experience and what went down when he was in the professional world. For those of you who are maybe you’re not quite there or wondering what it’s going to take, well, that’s what we’re going to have a conversation about. We’ll use Matthew’s foundation and base of his own experience and then we’ll just get into it. But we’ll start yakking about it, and hopefully we can give you some good ideas and things to think about if you do aspire to be a leader. That’s how we’ll roll today, and with that, Matthew, I would love for you to just get going. Mathew Passy:             02:09                Sure, so back in my professional days, I was working for a big corporation and I was, I would say, doing most of the right things. Working hard, taking on extra roles and responsibilities, learning everything I could. But I think my direct supervisor had always considered me a leader, had strong leadership capabilities, would give me certain responsibilities that would be those held by other leaders in the field. But she couldn’t give me the title, and this isn’t about her. Her hands were tied by a lot of different things, but what irked me more than that was when I started to look around at other opportunities, either within the company or when I was applying for jobs outside of the company, especially, after I got laid off, I was applying for positions that I thought were befitting the roles and responsibilities that I had taken on. I was applying for leadership roles, and in many cases I was getting responses from companies that I had interviewed with and interviewed well with. That said, “Yeah, we like you, we think it’s great, but you just don’t have that leadership experience that we need to put you in a leadership role.” I was trying to say like, “I have it, what I don’t have is a title, right?” I couldn’t say executive this or vice president that or managing blah, blah, blah. Even though everything that was needed in those roles were things that I had taken on. I had almost self-taught or I earned and had those qualities, capabilities, the leadership, whatever you would think was needed to get into those roles. I found myself getting really frustrated because, on the one hand, everyone’s saying, “You need titles to get into a leadership role, but you’re not going to hire me for the leadership positions in order to get the title so that I can get the leadership.” It was a ridiculous catch-22 and I felt myself being really stuck and frustrated by that experience. I know I’m not alone in this, I mean, the same thing happened even when I first got into my career. I was applying for a lot of jobs that were entry level jobs and they said, “Yeah, but you need experience.” I was like, “Well, I can’t get experience if you don’t give me a job.” I’m applying for entry level jobs and to get there, so I’m wondering what are the… I don’t want to say hacks, but that’s the way we like to think about things. But what are the ways that I could have either convinced these people, these companies, these hiring managers, whatever, that I was capable or what are some of the things that I could’ve been doing in order to showcase that I was competent for leadership even though I lacked it on my business card? Kevin McHugh: 04:49 I guess as I’m listening to you, I’m hearing you say that the title itself has meaning in terms of what it says to somebody. When they hear the title, it implies a leader. I’m interested in that because you can be a leader, period. The characteristics of a leader, if we generically step back, and so what is the differentiator between leadership and what leadership looks like and what leadership does? What being a staff person or a task executer? I always think that one distinguishing factor is am I going to have people who report to me? Sometimes the title might be supervisor, but at supervisor, if you’re in an interview, the case could be made. Well, of course, I was a leader. I had six people to supervise, I had people who were reporting to me, I had people who were counting on me for setting some kind of direction, some kind of vision for the works. Even if it’s not a vision of an entire global organization, certainly within the job that I have, I have a staff function, but I have people who work for me. We have a process, right? We have a deliverable and we have something we’re trying to do, and what’s our vision for this particular department or this particular area or this particular role? I’m wondering a little bit about how the title piece was affecting your situation? Because, ultimately, I’m looking for like, “Okay, if I want to make the case that I should be given a job as a leader, what’s the basis? The basis of the case, the basis of what a leader is? How do I position myself as a leader? How do I point to myself?” My first blush at it is I’m assuming it means that the minimum you have to be responsible for not only set of tasks in the deliverables of my job responsibilities, but I probably have to have people who report to me. I just want to check that out right there. Like right then and there, does that sound like a baseline differentiator about leadership? Mathew Passy:             07:01                I would say that is certainly one key aspect of it, that being a leader obviously means that you have a team that is reporting to you. In my situation, it was unique because at the role, so I was an associate editor and associate producer. I don’t exactly remember what the title was, and we would have morning and afternoon editors who would be in charge of the room. The anchors and the various editors that were in there, and in many cases, at a certain time, the afternoon editor would leave and my boss would be like, “All right, Matthew’s in charge.” If anybody has a problem, turn to Matthew. If there’s a technical problem, the engineer would have left for the day and so people knew they could turn to Matthew. I was given the responsibility of managing and supervising. I filled in for other editors in the afternoon, in the morning when we needed it and did so with the full confidence of my supervisor and with the others around us. Even though I think I put that on my resume and explained that in interviews, it often felt like the final straw against me from these hiring managers was always, “Well, but you didn’t really have the title.” It’s like but I took on the role, I did the job, I was given the confidence, I was expected to do all the things that would have come with the title, and I did it without the title. Which, to me, should have been even more impressive, right? Like I did everything that was asked and then some and I didn’t even ask for people to call me sir or I didn’t demand the higher pay that was befitting of the role because I was a team player and I said, “No, this is what needed to be done.” Not only was I asked if I could handle it, but I felt a certain sense of responsibility that somebody had to pick up the slack and so I did. But it just felt like I’m suffering from the joke on the office used to be, “He’s not the assistant regional manager, he’s assistant to the regional manager.” Which has a completely different connotation, just adding that one little word. I guess it comes back to how do you display your leadership capabilities, whether it’s on your resume, whether it’s in an interview, whether it’s in the application itself if you don’t have the actual title and wording. Look, I’ll take it a step further, you are being groomed to be a leader, right? You are getting all the training, you are doing everything that they want. They’re trying to turn you into leadership, how do you tell someone, “I’m training to be a leader. I still don’t have the title, but I’ve done the training, I’ve got what it takes, and the position just wasn’t there. But I did what needed to be done.” How do you say I’m a leader on your resume or in an interview without sounding so grossly braggadocious and saying, “No, I’m a leader.” Kevin McHugh: 09:56 The way I would distinguish it is I would actually learn what the words are that talk about leadership, and there’s a lot of conversation out there about the difference between managing and leading, right? I remember some article I saw long while ago, but when I was talking about this topic was the kind of differences between leading and managing. One of the phrases that I remember being used was counting value versus creating value. In other words, when you’re managing some process and you’re managing a set of outcomes and you would simply manage your resources and manage the process in order to get things out. But the actual creation of value is somebody who’s starting where there’s nothing there at the moment. It takes it to a new level. This is about creativity, this is about new ideas, this is about adding things that weren’t there before. You’re actually creating an example. We hear the term leading by example, and that becomes part of the conversation you would have to have with a person who’s in position to give you a title or give you a job responsibility package that has a title, that’s considered a leadership role. The one thing that I’ve always felt people just avoid doing is going straight into my boss and point blank asking the question, “Do you see me as a leader?” Period, and finding out and getting the feedback, and then asking the second question, “And in this organization, what is the job function that I need that people will identify that I’m a leader?” Because if that’s what you’re talking about encountering a marketplace where title tells you a leader, I mean, you can get the title and of course be a terrible leader, right? Mathew Passy:             12:00                When I started my business, everyone’s like, “Oh, you should put CEO on your business card.” I’m not a CEO, I run my own business, but that doesn’t make me a CEO. I’m not going to be a liar, I’m not going to grandiose who I am just for the sake of it. But I can hear it, I can easily put on my business card CEO. I’m the top dog, this is it. I run this business. But, let’s be honest, that’s a lie. Kevin McHugh: 12:20 Just to zero in, I think if you’re trying to get yourself seen as a leader, it’s always going to involve the capacity, the expertise, the skill, the energy that actually demonstrates that you can positively influence people. When you’re managing work, you’re controlling some group of processes and entities and things to accomplish a goal. But the differentiator to me is leadership is actually referring to a person’s ability to influence others, to motivate others, to enable people to contribute, to get things done. This influence and inspiration is what separates you as a leader versus a really good manager. It’s not about the title that gives you the span of power or the span of control, but if I’m making a pitch inside my existing organization, let’s say for starters, I know I need a way to demonstrate that I can have a positive, motivational, inspirational influence on other people. When you go back and look at the conditions you were using, how conscious were you of demonstrating and promoting and evidencing how well you influenced others? Mathew Passy:             13:45                Well, I guess not well enough. We’re talking a long time ago now, and so I don’t know if I can recall many of the specifics anymore. But, clearly, I wasn’t doing that well enough since we’re having this conversation about it right now. Kevin McHugh: 14:02 To the people who are listening who are asking the question like how do I become a leader? Well, obviously, you get promoted to some position and I would say the big differentiator is are you responsible for managing other people? Now, in managing them, that’s just a matter of having a good communication about what the mission is and what the goals are and then making a plan to get to them and executing on them. But where you demonstrate your leadership is more about how they react to you, how they feel about working for you? Then you start using all of the things that we’ve been using over time to define what leadership is. This is someone who clearly cares about me, this is someone who’s competent and knows what they’re doing, this is someone that I can look up to, this is someone who I can learn from, this is someone who actually cares about my success. Now, that’s, to me, how you want to get yourself established as a leader. If you’re making a pitch, whether it’s to a potential employer in a job interview or whether it’s internally, I think the way to get yourself noticed is to speak with that kind of language. To really have the language of leadership as part of your understanding. When you even demonstrate that you know how to differentiate between leading and managing, then you can make a case to the potential employer. It’s really about a pitch, right? It’s about positioning, and whenever you are pitching you want to have examples. For example, we had a disaster in one of our units, that things were going South. I stepped in, I had six people on the team with me and I rallied them. If you went back and talked to every one of them, I think you would hear them say that I demonstrated leadership. Because I took a quick assessment of the issues, I was calm, I was cool, and I was inspiring them that we can fix this and we can fix this in the time allotted. I was talking to a client the other day and their job title is crisis manager. Every day is a crisis for them. It could be a crisis in the physical security of the building or set of buildings, it could be a crisis in their information systems. If you look at the number of companies that are really dependent on their data and their data processing, all of the systems that we have to back up so that nothing goes down. Well, that’s all done in an automated way. But, at the same time, there’s a group of people that are looking to a leader to set the tone, to communicate, to clarify, to prioritize at least in a crisis. Those are attributes and if you want to be a leader, if you think you want more opportunities, you have to be clearer what that looks like. What it looks like is I would like a broad area of responsibility and I’d like a team of people. If you’re at that spot where you are a task doer and you want to be the leader of people who do the tasks, you have to make yourself known. You have to announce that’s what you want, you have to ask how do I get it, what’s available, and what do I need to do to be seen as the next person in line to get that leadership position? I don’t know, am I getting at it right now? Mathew Passy:             17:46                I think you’re absolutely getting at it. I think that in my situation at my workplace, in fact, at the place that I was working at, I was in line for that leadership role. Because my direct supervisor, and even some of the people above her knew the potential was there, knew what I was doing, knew how hard I worked. Knew that I could not just manage but could lead, and I was about to interview for such a role when the interview got delayed unexpectedly. The day I was supposed to have this meeting with the top executive within the company, I got an email and said, “Hey, we’ve got to push this off. Something came up. I’ll get back to you, don’t worry about it.” Which I didn’t really worry about it, and then I come to find out a week later the reason why they delayed it is because, well, we were all getting laid off. It was like I was right there on the cusp of it and it disappeared. I think, internally, I was doing it right, but externally you’re probably right that I was doing a good job of displaying management, not leadership. And just even hearing you say it that way, as soon as you said that, it all of a sudden clicked. It was like, “Ah, that’s the difference.” I was showcasing my ability to manage people, I was not showcasing my ability to lead. That probably would’ve made a big difference in a lot of places that I was exploring. Kevin McHugh: 19:15 Even in that terrible situation when you were getting laid off, you could have been a leader, “Hey, hey, everybody, follow me. We’re going out the door.” Sorry, couldn’t help it. Mathew Passy:             19:28                It’s okay. Kevin McHugh: 19:28 Had to do that. Mathew Passy:             19:30                I think at the time I didn’t know what was next and I probably even struggled with what I was going to do and I saw some people get picked up by competitors and quickly land on their feet and do some other stuff. I was making a lot of moves and whatnot, but at the time, I don’t think I would have had the gravitas to turn to everyone and be like, “Follow me, we’re going to do this.” I didn’t get into what I got into because I wanted to run my own thing, I got into it because once I realized that I was running my own thing and that I could do it well, it just grew and it’s turned into what it is. So, now, if we had gotten laid off yesterday, today, I would turn to everybody in newsroom and I’d say, “Hey, who doesn’t have a job? Come with me. I got you covered.” I would have done exactly what you’re saying. Kevin McHugh: 20:19 Yep, there you go. Well, now I hope that we’ve made that clear. I’ll tell you a quick story of a time I made a promotion. I was in the office furniture business and I had project managers, and they would basically take a design from the designers and they had to translate it into very specific, very accurate blueprints and a very clear and specific order of certain parts and pieces and sizes and shapes. The guy that was doing that was outstanding at it. If you missed something by three inches on a 10,000 square foot project and you started over at this side, by the time you got to the other end, you would be off three feet and that was a problem. He was just outstanding at finding things like that. Then he wanted, like anybody, an ambitious person wanted to be supervisor. That’s what I said, “You got it, terrific. I made that decision because of the competencies. I never asked the question, “I wonder if he’s any good with people?” Well, guess what happened? Mathew Passy:             21:23                He wasn’t very good with people. Kevin McHugh: 21:25 The same thing that made him so incredibly successful at looking at prints and red lining and circling and finding error after error after error in small half inch increments. When he went to supervise three or four other people, he ended up doing exactly what he did. He went and circled and showed you missed this, you missed this, you missed this, you missed this, right? Over somewhere of six months or so, I began to get the rumbles from the people. They were not happy because the way he was leading was not influencing coaching, teaching. Instead of saying, “Let me have a session for an hour and let me show you the five major ways that I would look at a project, and what I would look for? Here’s the checklist that I used to use. Why don’t you guys try this out and then come back and let’s take a look and let’s see what you did? I found this here. Okay, so tell me why you didn’t mark that or how you didn’t see that?” It would be a coaching and an encouragement and a positive influence experience. I did what coaching I could to help that person get along and to change. It was not highly successful, it was difficult because he was really a person who thrived in finding mistakes and errs and being precise and it just didn’t translate well. In the final moments within and I was doing a review, the whole process and one of the review items was takes initiative and innovates and come up with something that was never there before. That’s one of the hallmarks of a good leader, “Wow, look at the way we’re doing this. Where did that come about?” “Hey that was Matthew’s idea.” Matthew took a problem, got a creative solution, found a new way. It costs less, it’s faster, however we do it, right.? I got, I dinged him a little bit on this initiative and he said, “You know, you’re right, I get it.” As he walked out the door, he just turned around and he looked at me and goes, “So just a quick question, what do you want me to initiate first?” It was like it just gave me a funny feeling because that’s what initiative is. You didn’t need to be told, that is a big factor in leadership, demonstrating that you can figure out what needs to be done without anyone telling you. By the time you’re the CEO, you’re leading the entire organization into the future. There’s nobody giving you instruction, you’re casting a vision. And then you have to find the ways in which to resource your organization. One of the great responsibilities is how to hire other leaders and to coach him up. I don’t know, I hope maybe that helped people with giving them a shot at how the differentiate between leading and managing and being very, very capable of explaining to anyone your ambition and why they should make you a leader. You better be able to demonstrate that it’s always about your ability to figure out what needs to be done without anyone telling you, and to get a group of people who are a 100% behind you and think you’re the bomb, the bomb diggity. Mathew Passy:             24:45                You might have just given me a thought for our next episode because I think you pointed out something at the tail end there that it’s not a throwaway line, but I think it was a small piece of it that is a bigger problem. Is when you get to leadership, the struggle of being indecisive, it is I think there’s a feeling that you don’t know what’s the right choice. The whole point of being a leader is that you have to make that choice and it’s okay to choose wrong, but you’ve got to choose. I think we could talk all about how to make the choice when it hasn’t made before or when you don’t know what’s right or wrong. How to make a choice, how to own that choice, how to move, whatever happens with that choice, and to deal with those consequences and move on from it is an important aspect of leadership that I don’t think we have tackled too in depth. So maybe that’s a great place to go next. Kevin McHugh: 25:34 I love it, I absolutely love it because I can correlate this to some of the work we did on the personality inventories. There are people who might want to just have a reality check. Are you wired for leadership? Mathew Passy:             25:50                Well, we’re going to put a pin in it right now, and so we’re going to leave you with that big tease. Now that you’ve learned the difference between managing and leading and everything else, are you wired to do it? We’ll find out. Join us next week here on Sheer Clarity. In the meantime, go over to, look for show notes for this episode including a transcript. Check out all past episodes. If you can, throw a rating and review, it does allow people to know that you’re listening to a great podcast and it’s worthy of their time. We’d love feedback. Look, this episode was based on a question that I had for Kevin, and we would love to get more questions from you and answer them right here on Share Clarity. So shoot us a note,, or on the website, there’s a form at the bottom of and we’d love to hear from you. Thank you for joining us this week. I’m Matthew Passy, he’s J. Kevin McHugh, and we will see you next week on Sheer Clarity.

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