Leadership vs Management – what’s the difference

by | Feb 24, 2022 | Leadership | 0 comments

Leadership vs Management – what’s the difference

by | Feb 24, 2022 | Leadership | 0 comments

Are you a leader or a manager? How do you decide? Do you have to decide? What is the difference between leadership and management exactly, and why does it even matter? While leadership and management are often considered as overlapping functions, both imply a unique set of qualities, skills and functions…

‘Leadership’ and ‘management’ are among the most commonly used terms in business, and they’re often used interchangeably. When we talk about leaders, we often mean managers and when we talk about managers, we often think of them as leaders. While the same person can be both, they don’t have to be.

While leadership and management are often considered as overlapping functions, both imply a unique set of characteristics, skills and functions which share similarities, but there are crucial differences between the two. Some managers don’t exercise leadership. Many lead despite not being in a managerial position.

Leadership is about vision and inspiring individuals. A manager’s role is to execute. Both functions are extremely important and needed within organisations of all sizes. If you find qualities of both a leader and a manager in one person, never let them go. You’ve hit the jackpot! If you’re wondering which one you should be, you can stop. You can, and should, be both.

What management is

On the most fundamental level, a manager is a member of an organisation whose responsibility is to carry out the 5 general functions of management: planning, organising, staffing, leading, and controlling.

A manager’s focus is to achieve business objectives and goals. They’re held accountable for their and their employees’ actions and results. That’s why their focus tends to be on processes and controlling. They create a roadmap for their subordinates to follow to execute a vision. They create and implement processes, staff their departments and control employees and workflows.
Managers are leaders if they practice leadership functions of management, which include inspiring, motivating, and guiding employees to achieve higher levels of productivity and efficiency. Not all managers have leadership skills though. Employees often follow directions from their managers because they’re obliged to do so, not because they feel motivated or inspired.

What leadership is

The main difference between leaders and managers is that leaders don’t have to hold a managerial position within the organisation. They don’t need to be in a position of authority for people to follow them. Unlike managers, they are followed because of their vision, the way the vision is communicated and the way they inspire and motivate people along the way.

While managers think execution, leaders think ideas. They’re the ones thinking ahead and creating organisational visions with the goal of innovating in a way that helps the organisation in the long run by asking what needs to change, and why.

Leaders provide organisations with a sense of direction but don’t get involved in tactical tasks.  While managers implement processes and control their employees to ensure stability, leaders drive change in a way that is beneficial to a business in the long-term.

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Leadership vs management – key differences

Vision vs planning

To better understand the difference between leadership and management, let’s think of a map. A leader and a manager are planning a journey. A leader is responsible for choosing a destination for the journey and general directions. A manager gives us a list of all the specific turns we must take to get to the destination effectively and efficiently.

Leaders think ideas. Effective leadership is cantered on a vision to guide change. Those with strong leadership skills are forward-thinking, spotting opportunities for business growth and profits. They have knowledge of current trends, advancements and skillsets and the ability to communicate their vision and purpose clearly.

Managers, on the other hand, are all about execution. To execute organisational vision effectively, those in managerial positions need to ensure that the right processes are implemented and optimised, and their subordinates fulfil their tasks efficiently.

To put it simply, leaders are concerned with what should be achieved and managers with how it should be achieved.

Taking risks vs controlling

To drive positive, organisational change, leaders must continuously challenge the status quo. Striving for business growth and profit entails taking risks, so those in leadership positions must know when to step out of their comfort zone and when to empower members of their organisations to do the same. Taking risks often presents organisations with new opportunities, competitive advantages or, in case of failure, important lessons for the future.

While leaders drive change, managers do everything to prevent chaos. They control workflows and people to minimise risks and efficiently achieve business goals. This function of management helps in detecting errors, measuring progress towards organisational objectives, and indicating appropriate actions to take next.

Aligning vs Organising

Aligning is a communications challenge. Organising is more of a structuring issue.

With the use of strong communication skills, leaders align people with their vision. To achieve success, those in leadership positions have to ensure that individuals within and outside of their organisations believe in an alternative future—and then take action based on that shared goal.

To achieve these goals, managers set up teams and workflows. They create organisational structure and set of jobs to accomplish project requirements, find alignment between people and jobs (hiring and staffing), delegate responsibilities, and monitor performance.

Inspiring vs directing

On top of coming up with new ideas for organisations, leaders play a crucial role in the process of driving organisational change.  The often use their strong communication skills to drive positive actions and change by inspiring other member of their organisations to work towards common, clear objectives.

While leaders communicate upcoming shifts and transitions and the reasons behind them, preparing people to start doing things differently, managers should be reinforcing their messages by directing individuals and delegating tasks within their reporting hierarchy to ensure effective transitions. They control groups to achieve to accomplish specific business objectives.

Leaders inspire and motivate, managers delegate.

Driving change vs ensuring stability

Within our culture, leaders able to drive dramatic changes have almost legendary status. Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, Bob Iger, Reed Hastings, the list goes on…Leadership’s function is to encourage transition. Companies avoiding change and are likely to lose their competitive edge.

Organisational transitions, however, can feel uncertain and cause disruption. That’s why, while leaders press for change, managers do their best to ensure organisational stability, necessary for people to do their best work. They must ensure that goals are communicated clearly and reinforced frequently to enable their employees to accept the change and align with it.

To succeed in today’s incredibly complex and turbulent business environment, organisations must embrace both.

How to be a better leader/manager

Leadership and management share some important characteristics, but both have qualities making them unique.

Qualities of a leader:

  • Innovative
  • Vision-oriented
  • Motivates
  • Inspires
  • People-focused
  • Forward-thinking
  • Embracing change


Qualities of a manager:

  • Organises
  • Specific goals-oriented
  • Administrative
  • Planner
  • Delegator
  • Problem solver
  • Embracing complexity

Despite differences, there are overlapping skills that both leaders and managers should develop to succeed in their positions. Regardless of which one you are, practicing the following skills will make you better at what you do:

Attention to detail

Both leaders and managers should be able to analyse situations quickly. Managers’ attention to detail helps them to easily spot errors and issues. When detected early, these can be addressed appropriately to ensure staying on the right track to successfully achieve set business goals. Leaders’ attention-to-detail helps them to spot trends and opportunities which can play to organisations’ competitive advantage.

Two-way communication

Strong verbal and written communication skills are a must. Leaders need to be able to communicate their often-complicated visions clearly and in a way that inspires and motivates people around them. Managers’ communication skills allow them to translate organisational visions to specific goals, as well as delegate tasks well to their subordinates. Apart from sharing information with others, both groups should be able to actively listen to people around them to encourage feedback, transparency and trust.

Emotional intelligence

Ability to understand, use and manage emotions of our own and others is an extremely useful skill. While positive interactions allow leaders to inspire and motivate their audiences, managers can use their interpersonal skills to build teams, resolve conflicts and improve collaboration.


Regardless of an industry you’re in, a position you hold or work you do, problem solving is always a useful skill to have. Leaders must be able to find appropriate solutions for entire organisations. Managers, on the other hand, focus on solving day-to-day issues within their teams and departments.

Organisations must embrace both sides

In his Harvard Business Review article titled “What Leaders Really Do?”, John P. Kotter said, “Managers promote stability while leaders press for change, and only organizations that embrace both sides of that contradiction can thrive in turbulent times.”

Whether you’re a leader or a manager, you are needed. Strong leadership without effective management is worth as much as strong management with no leadership. Not everyone has the skills to be both. In fact, most people are good or one or the other. The challenge for organisations shouldn’t be to only hire exceptions to the rule, the ‘rare birds’ so to speak. It should be to combine strong leadership with effective management to create the perfect balance.


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