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The Similarities and Differences Between Leadership and Management

Some individuals in an organization might have both management and leadership responsibilities, but that doesn't mean that these two words are interchangeable. While there are important similarities between leaders and managers, the differences are perhaps even more essential to understand.

Managers are much more likely to focus on ensuring that a company's day-to-day business gets done. At the same time, leaders use their imagination and vision to look for rewards and opportunities to fire up their team's creative process. In short, the goals of managers tend to arise out of necessity, while the goals of leaders result from an active and personal attitude of growth.

Companies need both managers and leaders to survive and thrive. The first step to ensuring that your business has highly skilled individuals in leadership and management positions is understanding the similarities and differences between these essential roles.

Recommended Assessment
Leader Manager Profile
  • Understand leading and managing
  • Skills needed to be effective
  • Balance and improve the two skill sets
Learn more

Some individuals in an organization might have both management and leadership responsibilities, but that doesn't mean that these two words are interchangeable. While there are important similarities between leaders and managers, the differences are perhaps even more essential to understand.

Managers are much more likely to focus on ensuring that a company's day-to-day business gets done. At the same time, leaders use their imagination and vision to look for rewards and opportunities to fire up their team's creative process. In short, the goals of managers tend to arise out of necessity, while the goals of leaders result from an active and personal attitude of growth.

Companies need both managers and leaders to survive and thrive. The first step to ensuring that your business has highly skilled individuals in leadership and management positions is understanding the similarities and differences between these essential roles.

What Is Leadership?

The definition of leadership is quite broad, and it's tricky to pin down one single meaning. In many cases, leadership is defined by the ability to inspire followers or employees. They can motivate workers and rally the team to reach the organization's goals.

Successful and effective leaders positively influence those who follow them to create non-incremental change. They can do this through diligent planning, vision, and strategy.

Good leaders will also help empower their workforce and make decisions with an adaptive style.

Leadership of an Organization

In this article, we'll use the definition of leadership, which refers to the skills needed to motivate people to act based on the growth and fulfillment of the organization's mission in terms of its operations and financial well-being. Leadership requires action based on future needs. Implicit in the focus on the future is that the leader functions effectively in an environment of some uncertainty – personal, financial, marketplace, and organizational.

Leaders demonstrate their purposeful actions for others and motivate people to act based on the organization's mission. Effective leadership requires action based on the company's future needs, and they must focus on goals and long-term growth.

Leadership demands an emphasis on a set of competencies based on guidance. The leader needs the skills to: 

  • Communicate Organization Direction. The leader should understand the organization's landscape and drive the organization to achieve an overarching objective.

  • Develop Key Relationships. The leader should determine all individuals who have a critical role in the business success of the organization, and they should acknowledge their roles.

  • Inspire Others. The leader should establish immediate credibility with the key parties identified above and inspire them to have a commitment to their peers, the organization, and its clients.

What Is Management?

On the other hand, management is much more focused on dealing with an organization's operational side than inspiring and rallying team members. Their roles typically include administrative duties rather than only encapsulating broader concepts like empowerment, team building, and motivation.

It is the job of management to keep a business operating by focusing on:

  • Setting timelines for goals and strategies.

  • Upholding the structure of the organization.

  • Budgeting and planning.

  • Establishing policies and procedures.

  • Recruiting and employee management.

Managers are typically more task-oriented than leaders, while leaders are often oriented towards a higher level of thinking and planning. Good managers assist leaders in turning concepts and ideas into concrete outcomes and tangible objectives.

Managing a Team of Employees

Management is defined as the skills needed to motivate people to act based on the performance of the organization, both in terms of its operations and financial well-being. It requires action based on present needs. Implicit with the focus on the present is that the manager functions effectively in an environment of some certainty – personal, financial, marketplace, and organizational.

Management demands an emphasis on a set of competencies based on administration. The manager needs the skills to:

  • Direct Operations. The manager should implement the support mechanisms that allow the organization and its staff to move forward in fulfilling growth targets.

  • Develop the Organization. The manager should set in motion all the people skills required of the team, including their competencies, roles, responsibilities, and task definitions.

  • Reinforce Performance. The manager should provide personal feedback that employees need to understand their performance in the wider context of the team and company.

What Are the Similarities Between Leadership and Management?

Both leaders and managers are necessary for a business to thrive, and there are many similarities between these two roles. Though they might focus on different aspects of operating a successful organization, they each need specific skills to relate to and manage teams.

Mindfulness and a Growth-Oriented Mindset

Growth Oriented Leader

The best leaders and managers understand the importance of incorporating mindfulness into their roles. When individuals in these positions are self-aware and mindful, they can continuously hone their skills to become the best leader or manager they can be. Having a growth-oriented mindset is essential, as opposed to a fixed mindset, as it means they are interested in finding their weak spots and continuing to improve over time.

Humility

Both leaders and managers must simultaneously maintain a level of humility while also understanding their importance in the organization's success. There is a fine line between staying humble and arrogant, and the best managers and leaders work to maintain the proper position between these two extremes.

The reason that it's important to strike this delicate balance is due to the impact that a leader or manager's attitude influences how much trust their team has in them.

Leader Expressing Humility

For example, an overly confident leader or manager will likely become resented by their team, particularly if their arrogance doesn't seem to match with the company's success. Even if they seem to have a good reason for how highly they think of themselves, teams under arrogant leadership or management tend to suffer in performance and lack psychological safety. This is partly due to how overly-confident people tend to diminish, alienate, and disengage from the people they are charged with leading or managing.

At the same time, a leader or manager so focused on staying humble that they come off as timid and lacking confidence in their decisions likely won't receive the trust of their team.

Consistency

It's also essential for both leaders and managers to maintain consistency between their words and their actions. In both roles, individuals are tasked with helping to provide clarity for the team and organization as a whole.

Leader Maintaining Organizational Consistency

On the one hand, leaders must maintain consistency in terms of the goals they are focused on reaching for the organization as a whole. On the other hand, managers must be consistent in their expectations of their team and their application of policies and procedures.

Transparency

Leader Being Transparent With Employee

Transparency is vital to trust, and the best leaders and managers are well-aware of that fact. This means that individuals in both roles must be willing to communicate honestly with their employees, even if this means admitting when they don't know the answer to a question or owning up to having made a mistake.

Trust

Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and the relationship between employees, managers, and leaders is no exception. Workers must trust people in leadership and management positions and feel trusted by people higher up in the organization.

Trust Between Leader and Employee

A foundation of trust is essential in a leader's effort to motivate, empower, and inspire their teams. In a manager's effort to uphold organizational structure, trust is necessary to ensure that their employees don't start to disengage from their tasks and their loyalty to the brand. Without trust, organizations fall apart.

Emotional Intelligence

An individual's emotional intelligence is their ability to pinpoint, understand, and manage their own emotions and their ability to understand the emotions of other people they interact with. Emotional intelligence is essential in the workplace, but it's particularly vital for leaders and managers.

This is because management and leadership require interacting with and impacting other people's actions. A leader or manager that lacks emotional intelligence will struggle to pick up on queues from their team that they are getting burned out, for example, or won't notice that one of their employees is eager to take on more responsibility.

Emotionally Intelligent Leader

At the same time, teams will be well aware of a deficiency in the emotional intelligence of both leaders and managers. This can reduce the amount of trust they have and mean that they disengage from their tasks and the organization as a whole.

Communication

Communication is a key component of any relationship. Having good communication skills is an important management and leadership quality because effective communication creates a positive work environment and a sense of oneness among individuals as leaders and managers are able to freely share ideas, handle disagreements, collaborate on projects, and share the 'why' behind their decision-making process.

Both leaders and managers need to have good communication skills to bridge the gap between and among individuals and teams. Leaders and managers who can create this open dialogue with coworkers and employees see greater collaboration and employee engagement as people feel they can share their opinions and have them be heard.

Leaders and managers also often have to resolve conflict as it arises. Conflict is inevitable in any workplace, and communication is crucial to conflict resolution. Those with strong communication skills can address these issues efficiently because they understand the perspectives of those involved and they clearly communicate their ideas and solutions in a way that is acceptable to those involved.

Decision-Making

Leaders and managers need to make a plethora of decisions each and every day. Leaders focus more on strategic decisions while managers focus more on operational decisions, but leaders and managers are thoughtful in their decision-making process and pay attention to the good of the organization and how their teams will be affected by the decision. They then follow through to ensure proper establishment of the decision.

Other Similarities Between Leaders and Managers

Manager Overseeing a Team

In addition to these essential skills, there are several important similarities between both leaders and managers, including:

  • They both work to unlock the full potential of their teams and employees.
  • They both focus primarily on improving the organization.
  • They both communicate policies and changes in the company.
  • They both get involved in an organization's day-to-day activities.
  • In some cases, they require the same level of education and skills.
  • They both act as role models in different capacities.
  • They both work to set the strategies and future needs of the company.

What Are the Differences Between Leadership and Management?

Now that we've gone over the similarities between leadership and management, let's examine some key differences between these roles.

Definition Differences

Manager Working With Employee

While managers can undoubtedly be leaders and vice versa, one of the primary differences is that leaders aim to inspire and motivate while managers organize, plan, coordinate, oversee, and implement.

Personality Styles

Managers tend to be problem solvers who are rational and steady-handed. They are focused on things like the availability of resources, structures, goals, and personnel. This means their personality tends to be more analytical, strong-willed, persistent, and intelligent.

Charismatic Personality Style

On the other hand, leaders tend to be more charismatic in relation to their followers, though they may be relatively private outside the workplace. They are highly creative, imaginative, and often more comfortable taking risks than managers.

Focus and Orientation

Managers tend to be more task-oriented while leaders tend to be more people-oriented. That being said, both roles require that individuals are capable in both orientations for an organization to succeed.

Manager Focused on a Task

Similarly, managers are more focused on managing work, while leaders are more focused on leading people.

Risk

Leader Assessing Risks

Typically, managers are more risk-averse, and leaders are more risk-tolerant. Leaders are willing to jump off the edge of a cliff, metaphorically, if they believe it can help the organization succeed. In this way, leaders are comfortable with uncertainty if it has a payoff. On the other hand, managers are more likely to play it safe and go by the books. Managers focus on stability and efficiency, often trying to minimize risk in their processes.

Approach to Tasks

Managers and leaders also tend to approach tasks differently.

When leaders approach a task, they help facilitate others to solve problems using their commitment and charisma. When they look at an issue, they work to create creative, new solutions.

Team Approaching a Task

Conversely, managers empower people to solve problems by soliciting their principles, values, and views. They tend to stick with time-tested methods rather than going off the beaten path when delegating task methods or taking on tasks on their own.

Leadership Styles

There are also some significant differences between the leadership styles of leaders and managers.

Leading a Team of Employees

Managers tend to fall within one (or several) of the following styles:

  • Authoritative
  • Consultative
  • Dictatorial
  • Transactional
  • Democratic
  • Autocratic

On the other hand, leaders tend to be more participative, transformational, or consultative.

Appeal

Leader Appealing to Employee

One straightforward way to understand the primary differences between leaders and managers is the part of an individual they appeal to. While managers appeal to the head, leaders appeal to the heart. Managers work to motivate teams to accomplish specific, objective tasks, while leaders touch upon a more ephemeral aspect of success that involves inspiration, motivation, and empowerment.

Problem-Solving

Leaders tend to approach problem-solving with a focus on organizational goals. They take a broader look at the situation and the organization to consider the broader impact. Leaders are more likely to be comfortable with taking risks and applying creative solutions because they have this long-term view.

Managers tend to look at problem-solving through the lens of the established framework of processes and procedures. They focus on solving the problem both quickly and efficiently to avoid day-to-day disruptions and repercussions.

Motivation and Control

Managers are concerned with tasks and ensure that each task is being completed accurately and efficiently. They oversee and control the work being done while focusing on the overall process and procedure to meet specific goals.

Leaders use motivation and influence to encourage creativity and innovation in others to attain common goals within the organization.

How to Develop Leadership and Management Skills

Skilled Organization Leader

Cultivating effective leadership and managerial competencies is an ongoing process. It requires a commitment to enhancing your communication skills, your ability to adapt to change and problems, and your ability to inspire those you work with. To develop yourself to become a great leader or manager, you need to exercise self-awareness, self-assessment, and patience, and seek continued learning, practice, and feedback.

You can develop your leadership and management skills with HRDQ's Leader Manager Profile. This 36-item assessment shows supervisors how their competence as both a manager and a leader can contribute to meeting the demands of the marketplace. Upon completing the course, you will be able to clarify the differences between leading and managing, pinpoint the skills needed to be effective in each role, and understand how to balance and improve both skill sets.

Do you or your organization have any questions about the similarities or differences between leadership and management? If so, be sure to leave a comment down below, and we'll get back to you within a day or two! We always make it a point to reply to every comment or question we receive, and we'd love to assist you however possible!

Recommended Assessment
Leader Manager Profile
  • Understand leading and managing
  • Skills needed to be effective in each role
  • Balance and improve the two skill sets
Learn more
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About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.