A manager uses technical skills, knowledge, or expertise to control subordinates and achieve a goal.
A leader, on the other hand, is an individual who influences, motivates, and enables others to contribute to organizational success.
Understanding management vs. leadership
Many people assume management and leadership are one and the same thing. While there are some overlapping functions and characteristics, the terms have different meanings and should not be used interchangeably.
For example, some individuals practice leadership without holding a formal managerial title. These people are commonly referred to as informal leaders. By the same token, many managers have no interest in true leadership or motivating subordinates vis-à-vis organizational success.
The issue of leadership vs. management has long been debated, with many scholars disagreeing on the degree of overlap between each role. Organizational psychodynamics teacher Abraham Zaleznik argued each delivered different value to a company. He suggested leaders advocated change and innovation and were concerned with understanding others, while managers advocated stability, authority, and were concerned with how things were actually accomplished.
More recent research by John Kotter, Harvard Business School Professor of Leadership, suggests management and leadership are two complementary yet distinct functions. In this case, leadership is tasked with developing a vision for the organization and aligning its employees with that vision through communication. This process creates uncertainty and change that managers then address through planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem-solving. Put differently, management is concerned with the practical implementation of the less tangible aspects of leadership.
Comparing leadership and management
Each pair represents extreme ends of a continuum and is grouped into five categories:
- Thinking processes – leadership focuses on people and looks outward, while management focuses on things and looks inward.
- Goal setting – leadership articulates a vision, creates the future, and sees the forest. Management executes plans, improves the present, and sees the trees.
- Employee relations – leadership considers employees to be colleagues that should be trusted and developed. Management considers employees to be subordinates that must be controlled, directed, and coordinated.
- Operation – leadership does the right things, creates change, and serves subordinates. Management does things right and manages change while serving superordinates.
- Governance – leadership uses influence and conflict to act decisively, while management uses authority, avoids conflict, and acts responsibly.
When assessing each category and attribute pair, it must be remembered they exist on a continuum. An individual may exhibit varying degrees of management or leadership characteristics, depending on the situation at hand.
In general, however, most will tend to favor one approach over the other.
- A manager uses technical skills, knowledge, or expertise to control subordinates and achieve a goal. Conversely, a leader is an individual who influences, motivates, and enables others to contribute to organizational success.
- The subject of management vs. leadership has been the subject of much debate and disagreement, particularly regarding the extent to which the functions of each overlap.
- Management vs. leadership can be understood more clearly but considering each role in terms of five categories existing on a continuum: thinking processes, goal setting, employee relations, operation, and governance. Depending on the situation, leaders may exhibit some characteristics associated with management and vice versa.
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