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What is the Difference Between Leadership and Management?

04 March 2024
reptiles looking at eachother

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”

Stephen Covey

The labels of leadership and management are often confusingly used interchangeably, despite the key differences. Some things can be conducted by both managers and leaders, hence the confusion, but they do represent distinct roles with unique responsibilities.  

As mentioned in our article “What is Leadership? A Definition for the Workplace”, for a business to thrive, a harmonious integration of leadership and management is indispensable. Think of planning a road trip to somewhere you have never been before as an example.

Leadership provides the vision and inspiration, setting the stage for the journey. Management, in turn, lays out the roadmap and navigates the practical path to achieve the desired destination. The route you take may change according to circumstances but ultimately the end destination will not.

In this article, we will further clarify the distinction between leadership and management, explore the disparities, debunk some common misconceptions, and identify the subtle similarities that coexist between both roles.

What is a Leader? 

In a nutshell, leadership is about motivating people to understand and believe in the vision set for the company and to then work with people on achieving their goals.  

A leader is more than a title; it is a disposition that inspires, motivates, and guides a team towards a common goal.  

As Reverend Theodore Hesburgh once said:

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It's got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet”

Leaders foster innovation, cultivate a vision, and propel their team toward success.  Unsurprisingly, copious amounts of statistics reveal that Organisations with effective leaders experience higher employee engagement and productivity.  

What is a Manager? 

Managers are the architects of operational efficiency. They focus on optimising processes, allocating resources and ensuring day-to-day operations run smoothly. Strong managers have the ability to motivate, resolve conflict, delegate and organise.

Environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken said the following about management:

“Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them.”

Understanding the Differences:

There is a tendency to generalise when distinguishing between leadership and management and for the purposes of this article we have unashamedly done the same, with the caveat that not all fruit are apples.  In other words, the lines are blurred but as a rule of thumb, the difference can be broken down into different categories.

People vs. Tasks:

Leaders tend to prioritise people, they nurture relationships and harness the strengths of individuals for collective success. 

Managers, conversely, are task-oriented, ensuring processes are efficient and objectives are met.

Short-term vs. Long-term Goals: 

Leaders have a strategic vision, focusing on long-term goals and inspiring their team to aspire to a shared future. 

Managers tend to concentrate on short-term objectives, devising plans and strategies to achieve immediate results.

Decision-Making Style: 

Leaders often make decisions collaboratively, seeking input from their team to promote a sense of ownership, although they are seldom afraid to back their own judgement and make brave individual decisions. 

Managers make decisions based on company policies, procedures, with an emphasis on maximising efficiency.

Focus on Change: 

Leaders embrace change, seeing it as necessary and an opportunity for growth and innovation to prevent the business from becoming stagnant and inward looking.

Managers may resist change if it disrupts established processes and they don’t fully buy in to the ‘why of change’.  


Leaders harness their entrepreneurial spirit and are more inclined to take calculated risks, exploring new ideas and pushing boundaries. 

Managers, however, tend to mitigate risks, preferring to ensure stability and consistency in operations.

Misconceptions About Leaders and Managers: 

There are numerous misconceptions about leaders and managers, such as those listed below to name but a few:

  • Leaders or managers are born, not made
  • You need to have a ‘title’ to be a leader
  • All leaders are extroverts
  • Managers lack the guile to be innovative
  • Managers need to know everything 
  • Strong single contributors make strong managers

There is a case to suggest that in some cases all the above can be true, with the notable exception of number 5.  The managers that tend to think they know everything rarely do and certainly don’t need to.  The challenge here is that a lot of managers are promoted based on their technical ability and are often the most technically qualified member of the team at the time of their promotion.

Misconceptions such as those listed above can be damaging and misleading to those entering their first people management or leadership role.  Authenticity is key in both scenarios.

Similarities Between Leaders and Managers: 

While leaders and managers operate in distinct spheres, they do share some common ground. For example, they both hold accountability and responsibility for:

  • Clarity of communication
  • Problem solving and decision making
  • Goal alignment
  • Managing change
  • Sharing feedback
  • Planning and thinking
  • Cultivating a positive and engaging working environment

Improving Leadership and Management Skills: 

Referencing back to the first in our list of misconceptions around leadership or management, the good news for aspiring and experienced leaders or managers is that the skills required can be honed and learned.  Not everyone is a natural born leader.

The wisest and most successful leaders and managers we are privileged to work with are proactive in seeking marginal gains, both in their own skill set and the systems or processes they use to lead and manage their teams.

Examples include:

  • Reviewing their performance management systems
  • Revising their recruitment methodology
  • Enhancing their ability to both facilitate and receive feedback
  • Use coaching to foster trust which in turn enables them to delegate
  • Take care to communicate messages with sensitivity but transparency

In short, they advocate for openness to innovation to create a dynamic and thriving workplace in which people wish to join and continue to work for.  

Are you looking to improve your leadership and management skills?

At Donovan Training Associates, we’re committed to providing important training to better yourself in the business world.  Our online leadership management courses serve as a great additional tool that is easily accessible; contact us today for more information.

To find out more or to book a free consultation: