Management vs. Leadership: What Are The Differences Between Management And Leadership?

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.

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 values to a company.

He suggested leaders advocated change and innovation and were concerned with understanding others, while managers advocated stability and 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 changes that managers address through planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem-solving.

Put differently; management is concerned with practically implementing the less tangible aspects of leadership.

Comparing leadership and management

To understand the complex and dynamic relationship between leadership and management, it can be helpful to consider both in terms of five pairs of attributes.

Each pair represents the 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.


Leadership does the right things, creates change, and serves subordinates.

Management does things right and manages change while serving superordinates


Leadership uses to 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.

What’s more critical, management or leadership?

Leadership might be more critical than management for smaller organizations focused on achieving ambitious goals.

Indeed, at that level, startups operate with strong leaders who can carry the whole team thanks to their vision.

Leadership is still essential when organizations get more extensive, and their success is based on enabling more people to work together.

However, management becomes critical.

In fact, at that point, without capable operators able to manage the organizations efficiently, there is no good execution.

And without good execution, there is no long-term success for these kinds of organizations.

For that reason, at that point, management becomes more critical.

Combining both management and leadership

It’s critical to strike a balance between management and leadership, as both are critical to business success.

A great leader might be able to motivate employees to join the team and create a short-term buzz.

Yet, without the proper day-to-day management of these employees, it gets tough to achieve ambitious business goals.

That is why leadership and management need to walk hand in hand.

When vision becomes critical through leadership

Leadership is critical in moments of hardship when the business context has shifted.

In fact, at that stage, leadership makes the hard decisions, and it decides what direction to follow.

At that moment, management follows suit.

In short, leaders know how to re-direct the business in the proper direction in moments of ambiguity, a fast-changing business landscape, and noise.

When execution becomes critical through management

When the proper direction has been enabled by leadership, it becomes critical to leave space for management for fast execution.

Leaders are still involved when execution moves away from the long-term vision.

Yet, on a day-to-day basis, it’s the management that plays a critical role.

In these moments of linear improvement, based on a more stable business landscape and context, management becomes critical to push things forward.

Key takeaways

  • 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.

Types Of Leadership

Distributed Leadership

Distributed leadership is based on the premise that leadership responsibilities and accountability are shared by those with the relevant skills or expertise so that the shared responsibility and accountability of multiple individuals within a workplace, bulds up as a fluid and emergent property (not controlled or held by one individual). Distributed leadership is based on eight hallmarks, or principles: shared responsibility, shared power, synergy, leadership capacity, organizational learning, equitable and ethical climate, democratic and investigative culture, and macro-community engagement.


Micromanagement is about tightly controlling or observing employees’ work. Although in some cases, this management style might be understood, especially for small-scale projects, generally speaking, micromanagement has a negative connotation mainly because it shows a lack of trust and freedom in the workplace, which leads to adverse outcomes.

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Active Listening

Active listening is the process of listening attentively while someone speaks and displaying understanding through verbal and non-verbal techniques. Active listening is a fundamental part of good communication, fostering a positive connection and building trust between individuals.

Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive leadership is a model used by leaders to help individuals adapt to complex or rapidly changing environments. Adaptive leadership is defined by three core components (precious or expendable, experimentation and smart risks, disciplined assessment). Growth occurs when an organization discards ineffective ways of operating. Then, active leaders implement new initiatives and monitor their impact.

RASCI Matrix

A RASCI matrix is used to assign and then display the various roles and responsibilities in a project, service, or process. It is sometimes called a RASCI Responsibility Matrix. The RASCI matrix is essentially a project management tool that provides important clarification for organizations involved in complex projects.

Flat Organizational Structure

In a flat organizational structure, there is little to no middle management between employees and executives. Therefore it reduces the space between employees and executives to enable an effective communication flow within the organization, thus being faster and leaner.

Tactical Management

Tactical management involves choosing an appropriate course of action to achieve a strategic plan or objective. Therefore, tactical management comprises the set of daily operations that support long strategy delivery. It may involve risk management, regular meetings, conflict resolution, and problem-solving.

High-Performance Management

High-performance management involves the implementation of HR practices that are internally consistent and aligned with organizational strategy. Importantly, high-performance management is a continual process where several different but integrated activities create a performance management cycle. It is not a process that should be performed once a year and then hidden in a filing cabinet.

Scientific Management

Scientific Management Theory was created by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1911 as a means of encouraging industrial companies to switch to mass production. With a background in mechanical engineering, he applied engineering principles to workplace productivity on the factory floor. Scientific Management Theory seeks to find the most efficient way of performing a job in the workplace.

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