The Leadership versus Management debate: What’s the difference?

All too often, people confuse leadership and management. Many believe managers have staff whilst leaders have followers. Both require similar qualities –both technical and an interpersonal acumen – but they aren’t synonymous. We investigate the difference.

You are a great manager. You met your targets. You’re friendly and easy to work with. You’re technically savvy. You say “Yes!” to change. You manage your people with easy and push them to deliver high-quality results. But, are you a leader? 

Knowing what separates managers and leaders can help you figure out how to achieve the best balance of leadership and management qualities; and by recognising the difference, you can sharpen your abilities and reach your fullest potential. 

 What is leadership, anyway? 

Many high-profile leaders describe leadership as a process of social influence. 

  • John Maxwell: “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” 
  • Peter Drucker: “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.” 
  • Warren Bennis: “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” 

Others believe Leadership automatically happens when you reach a certain pay grade or time served.  

In reality, you don’t need a title to be a leader. leadership is the result of an action. If you act in a way that inspires, encourages, or engages others, you are a leader. You can lead from the front, side, centre or back. 

In business, a good leader has an intuitive and applicable understanding of how their company operates and can drive the vision and direction. They know that people are a company’s greatest asset and provide the electricity that ignites people’s passions and creativity. A good leader spearheads change, accepts challenges and takes risks even if that risk leads to failure for the greater good. 

 What is management? 

Management is the process of dealing with or controlling things or people to reach the desired goal.  

A manager is a title. It is a role and a set of responsibilities. Managers are the ones who manage the business and its day to day operations. They are great at getting things done and making targets. 

A good manager is a good communicator and can clearly allocate responsibility and accountability. They are good decision-makers, can manage and motivate their people to achieve success in their own departments.  

Managers are important to business success because they are tasked to look after both the interests of the business and the people who work in it. 

Having the position of manager does not make you a leader. The best managers are leaders, but the two are not synonymous. 

Leadership vs Management  

Leadership and management have different characteristics and have different focuses. Here are 5 differences between leadership and management. 

1. Leaders create a future-focused vision, managers create goals. 

A leader thinks beyond what individuals do. They think about the bigger picture, longer-term results and customer impact.  

Managers focus on setting smart goals and executing them to support the leader’s vision. They control situations to reach or exceed their objectives.

Transitioning from manager to leader means thinking bigger picture. It is letting go of daily operations to focus on setting a clear strategy and vision — the “why” and “what” — and getting comfortable leaving your team to manage the “how.”  

2. Leaders sell it, managers tell it. 

A good leader is collaborative and gets buy-in from their people instead of telling people what to do. They understand that by enabling their people to provide solutions, in turn, allows them to accept responsibility. 

Managers’ authority rests in their ability to have control outright. You don’t have to like or trust your manager to do what you’re told. Managers expect and need control to do their job well. 

If you’re a manger adopting a coaching mindset is a good way to move into leadership. Coaching your team will not only help you to get buy-in from your team but it will also unlock previously unseen engagement. Great things happen when you empower people to accomplish goals and solve problems on their own. 

3. Leaders build relationships, managers build systems and processes. 

Leaders know that people are a company’s greatest assets. They have mastered the ability to build loyalty and trust by consistently delivering on their promise, leading by example, being transparent, actively listing and more. 

Managers focus on the structures necessary to set and achieve goals. They focus on the analytical and ensure systems are in place to attain desired outcomes. They work with individuals and their goals and objectives. 

To be a leader is to put people first and processes second. You must lead people in such a way they choose to lead themselves well, they choose to lead others well, and they choose to manage their processes well.  

4. Leaders are life learners, managers rely on existing, proven skills. 

Leaders are life-learners. They know if they aren’t learning something new every day, they’re falling behind.   

They will constantly seek out people and knowledge that will expand their thinking. Leaders share new knowledge with their team and encourage them to grow and develop with them. 

Managers often double down on what made them successful, perfecting existing skills and adopting proven behaviours. 

To become a leader, you first must become self-aware. Get to know your blind spots and actively work on mastering your leadership style and become the best version of yourself.   

From there onwards commit to actively learning and unlearning new things to keep your thinking fresh and curious. 

5. Leaders drive innovation & change. Managers maintain the status quo. 

A leader looks to create a culture of innovation and constant improvement. 

They know that the only way to stay ahead in business is to grow and evolve. They are constantly seeking improvement even if that means being, challenged, taking risks and sometimes failing. 

Managers, on the other hand, maintain the status quo. They’re doing their best work when they are enforcing the goals set out by the leaders. 

To be a leader, look for new opportunities to lead innovation and change. It’s not about creating the next google and apple. It’s about constantly seeking improvement and championing new possibilities over the old. 

Which is better? 

Leaders and managers may exist at opposite ends of a spectrum but they’re on the same team and complement one another.  

Companies need managers and leaders to run smoothly.  

A leader can have a grand vision, but without managers to carry it out, the vision won’t be realised.  

Managers adhere to standards, but if they aren’t inspired by leadership, they won’t be able to share their vision with the workforce. 

You will find that in your role you will have to be both at times. 

The degree to which you’re able to use leadership or management skills depends on your workplace environment, how developed your team is at carrying out responsibilities and their tolerance to change.  

If you have already established a well-performing team that can handle innovation and creativity and keeps up their responsibilities, then leadership is the way forward. 

If you are a manager looking to step up into leadership, the good news is leaders are both born and made and skills for great leadership can be taught. 

At IMNZ we deliver professional development that isn’t just academic. It’s practical. We know there are common traits that strong leaders exhibit, and our role is to empower managers with these traits through development, networking and recognition.

Written by Mela Lush

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