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Leadership vs Management: Understanding the Differences

6 min read
Zoe Brankin
Zoe Brankin

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 actually some key differences between leadership and management skills.

You need both personalities and functions to make an organisation run smoothly. But what exactly should each party be bringing to the table?

The definition of leadership versus management

Are you a leader or a manager within your organisation? How do you decide? What’s the difference and why does it even matter? As we mentioned, the two are often used interchangeably, sometimes we may talk about leaders but actually mean managers, and vice versa. 

So, let’s start by defining leadership and management. 

What is leadership? 

Leadership is the act of leading a group of people or an organisation. It has nothing to do with position within the organisation, titles, or management and is not restricted to certain personality traits. 

Think of it more like a process of social influence, which is there to help maximise the efforts of others to achieve a common goal. Leaders are those who can take initiative and invest a great effort in accomplishing the company’s goals

What is management?

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

As educator Peter Drucker is quoted as saying: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

But let’s remember that a company needs 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 and attention to detail to make those ideas a reality.

So let’s take a closer look at how leaders and managers differ.

Leadership and management skills: Two different approaches to be able to achieve the same outcome

Leaders set out the company mission, while managers execute on it

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

Leaders also need the communication skills to convey these ideas to the rest of the team — otherwise, their vision will be going nowhere very fast.

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. By monitoring and supporting teams, they 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 are focused on the future. Managers are focused on the present. 

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

They ask:

  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • Why are we doing things in this way?

Then they communicate their ideas to the rest of the team.

A manager thinks more about the day-to-day operations of the company.

They ask:

  • How will we achieve this goal?
  • When will this goal be completed?

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. Managers instruct. 

A leader is responsible for inspiring their employees. They can do this by developing a strong vision for the organisation and 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 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 stellar communication and by providing the tools that they need.

Leaders shape company culture. Managers are there to endorse it. 

When making a comparison between leaders and managers, it’s vital to look at the corporate culture. To be able to achieve business goals, culture needs to be aligned to the overall business strategy. 

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. 

Where 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:


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.

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.

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, owning up to their own mistakes, and offering plenty of praise and support.

What leadership and management skills do you need to thrive in the role?

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.

Want to up your leadership and management game?

Great leaders and managers create strong, successful teams. Mo is an employee engagement platform that can help leaders and managers improve collaboration and morale, prevent people from leaving and drive change.

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

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