Leadership vs Management: What’s the difference?

by Dr. Glen Jones

Interested in finding out the difference between a leader vs manager? Many articles and books have focused on the need for leadership in recent years. I’m afraid this focus has driven leaders to abandon the need for management. Leadership and management are two skills everyone with responsibility in an organization need to develop. It is said that we manage things, such as money, equipment, materials, and time while leading people. This is true, but sometimes that is not clear enough. To out the difference between a leader vs manager, it may be more clear to look at the different skills required for each method.

How we structure an organization involves people, hiring, performance evaluations, and payroll all of which involve people. This shows that people or things are not a clear division between leadership and management. So, management is focused on reports, processes, organizations, policies, practices, procedures, and paperwork, as they relate to people, plus the allocation of resources. Management is structured and documented within an organization. Management skills require analytical thinking, organizational, strategic, and tactical thinking, and the ability to communicate one-on-one. Management is a higher-level activity but still requires similar qualifications to the administrative individual contributor within an organization.

Leader vs manager

Leadership is the softer skills of someone overseeing an organization. They can include providing a vision, motivation, setting expectations, supporting, caring for, and bringing out the best in others. Leadership skills require strategic thinking, thinking outside the organization, imagination, ability to inspire, relationship building, caring for people, and the ability to communicate to large groups. Leadership requires an understanding of psychology and human nature/behavior and how to use that knowledge to get the best out of your team. Leadership requires the ability to relate to the individual and to the organization as a whole.

The differences between a leader vs manager have been identified. However, there are similarities between management and leadership. Both management and leadership are skill sets that can be developed. The skill sets support each other. Management and leadership need to be demonstrated to greater extents as you move up in the organization. Also, both are necessary for the long-term success of an organization.

There are numerous examples of organizations that are headed by CEOs with one skill set or the other. Startups are often great examples of visionary leaders who lack the managerial skill set. These organizations struggle to transition from startup to long-term operation due to weak managers. It is easier for these leaders to transition to a new product or service, another start-up.

There are similar challenges for organizations with strong managers, who cannot inspire or provide a vision. In many cases, this results in a bureaucracy with, at best, uninspired employees. Often these organizations fail to maintain innovation or attract innovators. These organizations may continue with some success, but they don’t tend to grow.

Organizations need people who develop both managerial skills and leadership skills. The skill sets are complementary and necessary to inspire innovation and grow while running with efficiency. The real trick is in the balance between the two skill sets. Although more leadership is required for those at higher levels in the organization, all employees can and should develop and demonstrate leadership. Management skills are required for all, as well, with enhanced skills as you rise in the organization. However, those in mid to upper-level management are required to demonstrate these skills the most.

Every organization is different, and they differ as they go through the organization’s lifecycle. So too, they require a different balance between a leader vs manager. The strongest leaders have demonstrated the ability to balance both skillsets to varying degrees throughout this lifecycle.

There are plenty of sources to research and learn about leadership and management. My point here was to demonstrate that leadership and management are complementary, and both are required. Success is achieved through the proper balance and timely use of each skill set. Balancing leadership and management is necessary for those leading small projects, large projects, departments, or the entire organization.


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