Leadership vs. Management: How They Differ

Leadership vs. management, is there even a difference between the two?

Many individuals and business leaders often use leadership and management interchangeably. It’s easy to imagine why people think they mean the same thing. The thing is, there’s a rabbit hole of differences between leadership and management we should be aware of.

Before we delve deep into answering this query, perhaps the more interesting question is, why should we even distinguish them?

The answer is that leadership and management have distinct functions necessary for the success of an organization. If you focus on only one, it compromises the other, limiting a business’s growth potential and progress. 

While many believe leadership vs. management shouldn’t merit discussion, thought leaders like John Kotter would argue otherwise. For him, explaining the difference between management and leadership, and by extension, the difference between leaders and managers, is necessary. 

In this article, we’ll share with you what authorities on the leadership vs. management topic think of their difference. This will give you a clear understanding of which facet to reinforce and focus on.

Leadership and Management DefinitionsLeadership and Management Definitions

John Kotter was one of the few thought leaders who emphasized the difference between leadership and management. According to him, the massive confusion surrounding these terms can get in the way of positioning a company for success. In other words, it takes knowing the distinction between leadership vs. management to succeed in the 21st century.

In a 2013 Harvard Business Review article, John Kotter explained the three-fold mistakes that people make in leadership vs. management:

  1. People use the two terms interchangeably. According to him, when people don’t clearly define their distinction, they muddle the crucial difference and vital function of both.
  2. People use leadership to define rank. Most of the time, leadership is used for people at the top hierarchy and management for those beneath. This is a fundamental definition error and very misleading. 
  3. People see leadership as a personality characteristic. The most often used element for leadership is charisma. Since a certain few are charismatic, this logically leads to a fallacy that only a few can be leaders.  

We’ll delve deeper into why these things are mistakes later.

Most of John Kotter’s work revolved around leadership and change. His most well-rounded publication was “A Force for Change,” published in 1990. He differentiated the two in definition and function. Below is a brief breakdown of how the two distinctively mean and work.

Management Processes

Every organization is structured and functions differently. John Kotter says management is about helping an organization perform what it already knows how to execute well. This includes common processes like planning, problem-solving, budgeting, staffing, restructuring and measuring performance. In other words, it’s about using the strategies within an organization to produce desirable results.

It’s management that helps businesses produce and deliver the solutions they promised. As organizations grow in size and complexity, management becomes more pressingly difficult. Managers must consistently create results within budget on the daily, all while dealing with people. 

Joe Fuller, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, perfectly describes management in one sentence:

“Management is getting the confused, misguided, unmotivated, and misdirected to accomplish a common purpose on a regular, recurring basis.”

Unlike leadership, management is often a place of rank or position. It commonly deals with establishing rules, order and discipline to create stability. While it is crucial for the success of any organization, management is still not leadership.

Leadership Processes

Leadership is a unique concept. Instead of ensuring that a company’s daily processes are executed perfectly (management), leadership is about innovation and change. It is leadership that brings an organization a leap closer into the future.

Leaders are proactive individuals who have perfect awareness that the world is rapidly changing. They are the ones who are expected to spearhead this change. Based on Kotter’s 8-step change model, they prepare the business to adapt and overcome these changes by doing two things:

  • Identifying problems that may arise if organizational change doesn’t happen
  • Exploring the opportunities when the organization commits to the change

That said, leadership is all about vision. You need to create a desirable vision that builds excitement and drives your constituents to change forward. People will subscribe to the vision you make when you empower them to push through, despite existing obstacles. More importantly, leadership is not an inborn personality trait because anyone can be a leader. As John Kotter puts it:

“The notion that a few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous. It’s a recipe for failure.”

What he means by this is that leaders can emerge from any layers within the hierarchy. Effective communication channels allow leaders to transmit their message throughout the organizational structure. 

Leadership vs. management are not clashing concepts. Instead, they work in a complementary and sequential fashion. Leadership creates a long-term vision. Management develops the bite-sized short-term actionable steps that make that vision a reality.

Needless to say, the best managers are leaders. You want to create a coalition of discipline and order while being an empowering visionary that guides people to change.

Want to transform your managerial position into a place of leadership? Book a call with Wizard of Sales®, and let’s make that happen.

Leadership vs. Management: What are the Differences?

When it comes to leadership and management, there are a lot of similarities. 

Both leadership and management involve setting a direction for others to follow. The former is for the long-term, while the latter focuses more on the short-term. Ultimately, both leadership vs. management require working with people.

However, there are also some important differences between leadership and management, and we’ll explore the specifics below:

Planning vs. Establishing DirectionPlanning vs. Establishing Direction

One of the key leadership skills is the ability to establish a clear direction (a.k.a. vision). Leaders can look ahead and see where their team, company, or industry is headed. They develop a vision for the future and then work to articulate that vision to get the support of their constituents. Leaders who get everyone on board with their vision create unstoppable momentum, only halting when that vision is realized.

Management, on the other hand, is more focused on the here-and-now. Managers develop plans and processes to help their team achieve specific goals. They focus on operational efficiency and ensuring that their team can meet deadlines and deliver results. In the context of leadership, management operates to achieve the targets to attain that vision. 

When managerial vs. leadership skills are combined, you get an effective leader-manager. An effective leader-manager can conceive futuristic goals and develop the necessary steps to reach those targets.

Organizing vs. Aligning

The main difference between leadership and management also has to do with varying approaches to dealing with people. Leadership centers on aligning or influencing people around a desirable vision. On the other hand, management is about organizing people so they can work towards a goal more efficiently.

One of the primary roles of managers is to develop tactical processes and organize coordinated actions within the team. This usually involves setting up a schedule, designing workflows, and assigning tasks to employees. For instance, HVAC contractors must establish a system for diagnosing and repairing HVAC systems.

Organizing people, systems, and structures is a lesser concern for leaders. Their main intention is to find ways to mobilize and activate people to pursue a goal. They create a shared vision, generate enthusiasm, and inspire others to take action. You stimulate people’s emotions which ultimately feeds their motivation to participate in organizational initiatives.

In other words, leadership is about inspiring people to achieve common goals, while management is about ensuring the work gets done.

Problem Solving vs. Motivation

Problem Solving vs. Motivation

Another difference between leaders and managers is how they approach problem-solving and motivation. Although leadership tends to motivate people toward a shared vision, management also practices motivation. Leadership vs. management simply operates at different yet complementary ballparks.

Managers solve problems in the short term. For example, when there are snags in the system or operational mishaps that bottleneck an organization’s performance. Management gets to the bottom to get the engine back up and running. 

In contrast, leadership solves problems before they even become one. The reason leaders innovate and create visions is to crush a possible problem or pursue a potential opportunity. 

As for motivation, it’s often the leaders credited for inspiring members of an organization, but that’s not always the case. Even managers can motivate people, albeit not in the same eloquent manner as leaders.

When management streamlines processes, resolves issues and hits targets, it’s a small victory that snowballs into a more significant success. This then motivates people within an organization. 

The leadership and management dichotomy can be explained with an analogy. Imagine your business as a car. The leadership is the accelerator, while management is the brake. Leaders take the organization forward, while managers ensure the organization doesn’t go off. 

Leaders are big-picture thinkers, while managers are detail-oriented. Leaders come up with the vision, and management makes it a reality.

“Leadership is about people. Management is about tasks.”
– Ryan Chute

Finding the Right Balance

Both leadership vs. management are important for an organization’s success but serve different purposes. In a nutshell, leadership is about inspiring people to achieve a vision. Management is about achieving these targets through effective planning and execution.

One isn’t better than the other. Leadership vs. management are two different skill sets essential for organizational success. 

The best organizations have leaders who can inspire their teams to achieve great things. They also have managers who can develop the systems and processes to make it happen.

The key here is to strike the right balance between being a manager and a leader. Everyone seeks stability and sustainability, and the managers give you that. However, in a rapidly-changing society, you need leaders that will innovate and take your business into the future.

How about you? Is your business stable and future-proofed? Wizard of Sales® can help you become the leader-manager you’re meant to be. Book a free call with us to learn how.