Leadership vs. management: What’s the difference and why does it matter?
What are the qualities and skills that set leaders and managers apart? And what’s more important to business success – great managers or great leaders? We take a look.
How is leadership different from management?
It’s a common misconception that leadership and management are the same.1 But while people often use the term interchangeably, management and leadership are very different activities – and it takes different skills to do each of them well.
Management in business is a relatively new idea born out of the emergence of large organizations over the last century. Managers and management teams are responsible for keeping individual teams operating within complex or multi-faceted businesses.
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In this model, the modern workplace manager plans, organizes, maintains and regulates. They’re the person directing the team to do their jobs to meet the organization’s goals. And they know what they’ve got to do because they have set responsibilities assigned to their role.
Leadership is all about end goals but less about getting there in a prescribed and structured way. Leadership, according to author and professor John Paul Kotter, is about setting direction through vision. A good leader is someone who motivates and inspires, recognizing the value in people and exciting them by creating a vision they want to achieve.
In other words, where a manager’s job is functional (achieving quantifiable results through structure and process), a leader is a visionary (motivating followers by aligning them with common organizational values).
Leadership skills vs management skills
So what separates a leader from a manager? They’re both essential to business success, but it’s rare someone will naturally have both qualities.
Here’s a list of essential qualities that make a good manager and a good leader:
Qualities of a good manager
Qualities of a good leader
Honesty and integrity
These qualities are the building blocks of a manager or leader. A good manager is adept at organization and handling change, while a good leader tends more toward easy communication and natural people skills.
But the good news is that even if you don’t have all the qualities of a natural manager or leader, you can learn the skills you need to help you be better in either role.
Let’s take a look at some of the key skills that make a good manager vs. a good leader.
What skills do good managers have?
Skills that make a good manager
Keeping eyes on the prize
A good manager focuses on goals and gives teams the direction and purpose to meet targets effectively. This needs good organizational skills, including managing timelines, breaking down strategies into smaller objectives, and working in a consistent, progressive way toward larger goals.
Directing and delegating
As a manager, you can’t do it all. So you’ll be responsible for delegating work among your team and making sure that it’s carried out on time and to the correct standard. Delegation and directing work are essential skills to help streamline processes and make certain teams meet broader goals efficiently.
Effective managers recognize ways of improving business processes from start to finish. They can analyze, monitor and continually optimize for better ways of working. A good manager will learn to hone this skill through experience, critical thinking and making mistakes
The ability to manage people
Great people skills aren't just for leaders. A huge part of being a manager is organizing and communicating important information to your team. You should also recognize when people need extra support and give them the tools to work effectively.
Skills that make a good leader
The ability to create a vision
The first mark of a good leader is the ability to create a clear, strategic vision of the future that people want to follow. This may come from out-of-the-box thinking, but it will be rooted in a clear set of values that make the vision accessible to the wider team.
The ability to inspire
having a grand strategic vision isn't enough – a good leader needs the skill to encourage people to get on board with it. They do this by clearly showing people how they fit into the bigger picture.
From engaged conversation to active listening and body language, leadership communication is one of the essential skills of a good leader. Without communication, it's difficult for a leader to inspire followers and empower them to see the full potential of the creative vision.
The ability to challenge
Taking risks is an essential part of leadership. And in today’s fast-paced, continually changing environment, the ability to challenge the norm and find new and alternative ways to approach tasks is a skill that every good leader needs to harness.
Which is more important: leaders or managers?
The short answer is neither. Both are equally crucial because each supports the other. Here are some of the key ways that managers and leaders work together to drive business success.
A leader innovates, a manager organizes
While the leader's role is to come up with fresh ideas and formulate a broader company vision, the manager is the person who breaks the big ideas down into smaller proactive steps. The leader has eyes on the horizon, while the manager ties it all to the bottom line, factoring in everything from employees and workflow to profitability and targets.
A manager maintains, a leader develops
The manager's job is to maintain a sense of structure. They make sure people perform daily operations smoothly and help avoid chaos. But if a good manager were to work alone, while the business would operate smoothly, it wouldn't necessarily see any growth. This is where the leader comes in, providing the drive for development that the manager can implement to take the company further.
A manager focuses on systems and structure, a leader focuses on people
When it comes to employees, the manager's focus is on the systems and structure of internal teams. It's up to them to make sure individuals work productively and have the proper support and the proper tools.
But the leader has to reach employees on a more personal level, encouraging them to strive harder and inspiring them to develop their skills as they work toward the company vision.
Can a manager become a good leader?
Can a manager become a leader?
The best managers are also leaders. But the two aren't synonymous. To be a manager is to fulfill a specific role within a company and meet an essential set of responsibilities. On the other hand, people can develop leadership skills at any stage of their career.
You don't need to have a specific job title or reach a certain level of seniority to be considered a leader. But if you're in a management role, some of the skills you're using – interpersonal skills, for example – can help put you on the path to leadership.
Wherever someone is in an organization, developing good leadership skills doesn't happen overnight. It's an incremental process and one that people looking to climb the ladder should dedicate themselves to as early in their careers as possible.
Read our blog on developing good leadership skills to help you identify the key characteristics you need to achieve that next level of influence in your career.
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