Healthcare Leadership V.S. Management

Understanding the Difference

[By Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA]

DEM blueMany times, individuals will use the terms management and leadership synonymously. In actuality the terms have significantly different meanings.

For example, Warren Bennis describes the difference between managers and leaders as “Managers do things right, Leaders the right thing.”

Managers are those individuals who have as their primary function managing a team of people and their activities. In effect, managers are those who have been given their authority by the nature of their role and ensure that the work gets done by focusing on day to day tasks and their activities.

On other hand, a leader’s approach is generally innate in its approach. Good leadership skills are difficult to learn because they are far more behavioral in nature than those skills needed for management. Leaders are also very focused on change recognizing that continual improvement can be achieved in their people and their activities can be a great step towards continued success.

Training Camps

Perhaps some of the best training grounds for the development of leaders are the military. The Marine Corps slogan is “A Few Good Men” and the military academies at Annapolis (Navy), New London, Connecticut (Coast Guard), Colorado Springs (Air Force), and West Point (Army) all have as their main mission, the development of leaders.

This is done by a number of different techniques. At graduation, the new officers, regardless of the branch of service, have been taught, and more importantly, have internalized the following: communicate the missions, sensitivity matters, real respect is earned, trust and challenge your soldiers. It is due to these lessons that many graduates of the military academies go on to positions of leadership in the private sector as well as in government.  Communicating the mission refers to conveying to those who work with us what are practice is hoping to accomplish and the role of each employee in achieving that goal. Given an understanding and awareness of the mission, when confronted with a barrier, employees are able to face hard problems when there is no well-defined approach by which to deal with them.


IRA advice and leadership


Sensitivity Does Matter

This is my area to improve; as I can be glib on occasion.

A leader treats each employee with respect and dignity, regardless of race, gender, cultural background or particular role they actually perform in the practice. Consider how many legal suits are filed against any type of organization, whether it is a medical practice or a large manufacturing facility due to perceived disparate treatment towards the employee based on race, religion, gender sexual preference or other non-work related issues.

Real respect is earned – Having initials after one’s name and the wearing of a lab coat does not automatically entitle an individual to respect. Formal authority has been found to be one of the least effective forms of influence. Only by earning the respect of your staff as well as your patients can you be sure that your intent will be carried out when you are not present. Setting the example in performance and conduct, rather than ‘do as I say, not as I do,” level of activity enables one to exert influence far greater than titles.

Trust and challenge your employees – How many times have practices sought to hire the best and brightest only to second guess the employee. Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, describes his management philosophy as having “… an employee base in which everybody is doing exactly what they want every day.” Obviously there are certain policies and procedures, but at the same time, the leader enables decision making to the lowest possible level. This also enables employees to question why certain policies and procedures are still being followed when more effective and efficient methods are available.  (How the Army Prepared Me to Work at Google, Doug Raymond, Harvard Business)

The phrase “Physician, heal thyself” (Luke 4:23, King James Version) means that we have to attend to our own faults, in preference to pointing out the faults of others. The phrase alludes to the readiness of physicians to heal sickness in others while sometimes not being able or will to heal themselves.

By the same token, it now is necessary for us to learn how to manage ourselves. It suggests that physicians, while often being able to help the sick, cannot always do so, and when sick themselves are no better placed than anyone else (Gary Martin,, 2010).





“We will have to learn how to develop ourselves. We will have to place ourselves outside the boundaries where we can make the greatest contribution. And we will have to stay mentally alert and engaged during a 50-year working life, which means knowing how and when to change the work we do” (Managing Oneself, Harvard Business Review – Jan. 2005 – pp 100-109, by Peter Drucker).

Although one’s IQ and certain personality characteristics are more or less innate and appear to remain stable over time there are individual capabilities that enable leadership and can be developed. Enhancement of these capabilities can lead to the individual being able to carry out the leadership tasks of setting direction, gaining commitment, and creating alignment. These capabilities include self-management capabilities, social capabilities and work facilitation capabilities.




Without question, while it is possible to cram for at test and graduate at the top of one’s class, that does not assure   leadership ability. We all know at least one person who scores at the highest levels on cognitive measures but would be incapable of pouring liquid out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel.

So, here is my philosophy:

  • Leadership: By example and thru transparency with collaboration [Do the right thing]
  • Management: By walking-around thru tangible / intangible metrics [Doing things right].

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3 Responses

  1. What is a physician-leader?

    Clearly, physicians are the leaders of the health care team. We were educated and trained for that role.

    But on the business and political sides of health care, maybe not so much.

    One reason is that the word “leadership” has a lot of different meanings. A leader in one area is not automatically a leader in another area.

    Requisite skill sets vary greatly for various situations.

    Dr. Bolt


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