62582be0ff418b7457a7a2cb Wfh Image P 500

Leaders and Managers Are Not the Same. But Both are Essential

Lynsey May Sutherland
Lynsey Sutherland
November 21, 2023
7 min read

What does a leader have that a manager doesn’t? The answer isn’t always immediately clear. While the terms ‘leader’ and ‘manager’ are sometimes used interchangeably, there are some key differences between leadership and management skills. You need both to inspire employees and ensure an organisation runs smoothly.

Forget Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. Leadership has less to do with position, titles, or management than being able to translate goals into actions and is not restricted to certain personality traits. Leadership is the act of leading a group of people or an organisation. 

Think of leadership as more like a process of social influence, which is there to help maximise the efforts of others to achieve a common goal. Leaders take initiative and invest in accomplishing the company’s goals

What is management?

Management means taking responsibility for and controlling a group of people or an organisation. It concerns itself with practicalities, structures and day-to-day objectives. Managers are going to be completely responsible for planning, organising, leading and controlling. 

A company requires both managers and leaders to be successful.

You need people with creative and strategic minds to come up with new ideas. But you also need people with the practical know-how, problem-solving skills and attention to detail to make those ideas a reality.

Here’s the difference between leadership and management skills

Good leaders and good managers have a lot of things in common, as well as a few important differences. You can think of leadership and management as two deviating approaches to achieving the same outcome. Leaders set the company mission. Managers execute it.

Being the top-level driving force of a business, leaders are responsible for defining the company’s goal. They need vision and industry know-how to decide what they want their company to achieve. That means deciding on core values and organisational goals.

Business leaders ask:
  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • Why are we doing things in this way?

On the other hand, a manager thinks more about the day-to-day operations of the company.

Managers ask:
  • How will we achieve this goal?
  • When will this goal be completed?

Effective leaders also need communication skills to convey these ideas to the rest of the team. Otherwise, their vision will be going nowhere swiftly. By doing so, they help to motivate employees and get them to understand their part in the bigger picture.

Leaders then pass this mission on to managers, who are responsible for executing and endorsing the company mission within their department. When a manager’s focus is on monitoring and supporting teams, they can keep everyone aligned with the vision and goals of the organisation.  

That might mean devising a road map and setting mini-goals within the overarching company mission. Or helping teams communicate with one another more effectively to keep everyone on the right path.   Essentially, managers reinforce the company mission on a day-to-day basis.  Leaders focus on the future. Managers focus on the present.

A business leader thinks about the future; and where they want the company to go over the months and years ahead. They are change-makers, keen to change the status quo and find new avenues to explore. Leaders look for opportunities.

Our Ultimate Guide to Disruptive Leadership ✨

Get leadership right. Download our guide and improve your skills today.

🚀 Read now

Managers react to the changes made by a leadership team and find ways to implement their ideas. They take a more detailed approach, ensuring nothing gets missed. Leaders inspire and empower. Managers instruct.

A leader is responsible for inspiring and empowering their employees. They can do this by developing a strong vision for the organisation and a strong company culture, too.

They encourage feedback and collaboration from their team members, and they mentor employees to be the best they can be.

A manager is responsible for instructing employees on what to do and helping them to achieve their goals. A manager implements processes and provides much-needed structure. Through meetings, appraisals and everyday communication, they set expectations and encourage employees to meet them.

They ensure that employees work productively, efficiently and happily — with the help of effective communication and by providing the tools that they need. Leaders shape company culture. Managers are there to endorse it.

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
– Peter Drucker

When making a comparison between leaders and managers, it’s vital to look at the corporate culture. Aligning culture to the overall business strategy enables the achievement of business goals. 

When it comes to the culture of your organisation, a leader must promote and uphold the values and beliefs of the organisation through their actions. Passionate and inspiring leaders are those that will be able to communicate the culture of the company throughout the organisation and have a positive influence on employees’ behaviours. 

Managers are there to then continuously support and endorse the company culture within their teams, proving that driving the company’s values and culture is going to be impossible without collaboration between leaders and managers. Watch our webinar for a closer look at the crucial role managers play in shaping company culture

This is how leadership and management skills intersect

Up to now, we’ve been focusing on the differences between leadership and management. But it’s important to note that there are similarities between the two roles.

Both leaders and managers are responsible for:

1. Communication

Employees are happier and more productive when there’s good communication within an organisation. It’s up to leaders and managers to keep their teams informed of the big picture stuff and those day-to-day details. 

The results of good communication? A motivated workforce, strong team relationships and an understanding of exactly what they should be doing.

2. Making strategic decisions

Leaders make top-level decisions about the direction, culture and values of an organisation. But managers make plenty of decisions at a team or department level.

Having the skills to assess risk and opportunity, deal with unexpected problems, and then convert decisions into action, is part and parcel of either role.

3. Earning the respect of a team

Both managers and leaders need to earn and maintain the respect of their employees. They do this by showing respect for their employees, being consistent and fair, being clear about the decision making process for operational changes, owning up to their own mistakes, and offering plenty of praise and support.

What skills do you need to be a great leader or manager?

If you’re lucky, you’ll have had the experience of working with a truly fantastic manager. And if you have, you’ll likely have seen them exhibit:

  • Interpersonal skills – The ability to delegate, motivate and support the team effectively
  • Analytical ability – To get to the bottom of operational problems and come up with solutions
  • Flexibility – Sometimes it’s just not possible to do things the way you’d imagined and managers have to adapt
  • Attention to detail – To ensure the best possible quality of work across the team
  • Time management – Because it’s a manager’s responsibility to ensure deadlines and productivity targets are met.

Looking a level higher, what skills do you need to be a good leader?

  • Communication – Sharing and listening to ideas
  • Creativity – It’s a leader’s job to come up with new ideas for company direction, values and culture
  • Strategic and commercial savvy – Using the bigger industry picture to inform the company vision and take calculated risks
  • Integrity – For a leader to have a following, they have to create trust
  • Openness – The very best leaders understand that examining your own strengths and weaknesses, and trusting your team with information, creates the highest-performing company culture.

Tools to assist overwhelmed managers

Great leaders and managers create strong, successful teams and luckily, there are plenty of tools that can help along the way. 

1. Planning and delegation software

Apps that offer easy ways to manage workloads, share priorities and delegate tasks make it much easier to lead your team. Using things like Basecamp or Monday.com is a great way to make sure everyone is pulling together. 

2. Mind mapping apps

Give yourself space to think outside the box and expand your creative thought processes with mind mapping apps like iThoughts. Perfect for ideating and focusing on the big picture. 

3. Reward and recognition platforms

Regular rewards and recognition show employees that you care about their work and wellbeing. Get started with Mo, a reward and recognition platform that makes it easy for busy managers to meaningfully recognise, engage and connect with their teams.

Transform your culture with Mo

Recruitment Collaboration
Book a free demo to learn how Mo can help you:
  • Improve employee engagement scores
  • Reduce employee churn
  • Build a collaborative culture
Book your free demo

Mo is an employee recognition and engagement platform that can help leaders improve collaboration and morale, reduce employee churn and drive change. 

Our platform creates a vibrant culture by developing team habits, encouraging people to celebrate success, recognise results and appreciate colleagues. Your complete toolkit for connecting and motivating teams in the new world of work. Book a demo with our team today.

Join our Community

Sign up to our monthly newsletter for industry insights, employee recognition tips, and news from the world of workplace digital transformation ⚡️