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, including technical and interpersonal acumen, but these are not synonymous. We investigate the difference.


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

But does that make you a good leader?

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


What is Leadership?

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.”

Many 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 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 the 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 challenge and takes risks even if those risks lead to failure for the greater good.


What is Management?

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

Manager is a title. It is a role and a set of responsibilities. Managers are the ones who manages the business and its day-to-day operation. They are expected to be great at getting things done and reaching the targets that have been set.

A good manager is a good communicator and can clearly delegate responsibility and own accountability. They are good decision makers, can manage and motivate the people around them to achieve success across their own departments.

Managers are important to a business’s overall 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:

  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 leaders’ 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.”

  1. Leaders sell it, managers tell it

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

The authority of a manager rests in an 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.

A good way for a manager to move into the leadership sphere, is by adopting a coaching mindset. 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.

  1. Leaders build relationships, managers build systems and processes

Good leaders know that people are a company’s greatest asset. They have mastered the ability to build loyalty and trust by consistently delivering on their promises, they lead by example, they are transparent and actively listens.

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 that they choose to lead themselves well, they choose to lead others well, and they choose to manage their processes well.

  1. 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 you can commit to actively learning new things and unlearn outdated things to keep your thinking fresh and curious.

  1. Leaders drive innovation & change, managers maintain the status quo

Leader focus on creating 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 facing challenges, 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 or 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 your leadership qualities or your management skills depend on your workplace environment, how developed your team is at carrying out responsibilities and their tolerance to change.

If you have already established a high-performing team who is able to handle innovation and creativity and keep up their responsibilities, then leadership is the way forward.

If you are a manger 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 through development, networking and recognition.




Written by Mela Lush, Marketing Manager at IMNZ


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