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:
Leadership focuses on people and looks outward, while management focuses on things and looks inward.
Leadership articulates a vision, creates the future, and sees the forest. Management executes plans, improves the present, and sees the trees.
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.
Management vs. leadership examples
Aware of the importance of management to its success, Facebook embarked on an initiative in 2012 to determine what separates a “great” manager from an “okay” manager.
Facebook’s most desirable and respected managers did not lead from the front or direct work in the traditional sense. Instead, they were found to be:
- Supportive and caring.
- Reinforcers of subordinate strengths, and
- Facilitators of subordinate learning and growth opportunities.
The company’s supportive management style was reiterated by Mark Zuckerberg in a 2018 Freakonomics podcast.
The CEO noted Facebook took a somewhat counterintuitive approach to management, permitting employees to be creative and pursue ideas he or other managers may disagree with.
One such example was the development of an instant messaging app which Zuckerberg initially hated.
This management style is somewhat of a departure from the company’s early days when a former Facebook employee noted that “Mark decides what do with the product, and everyone has to figure out how it will affect them.”
In a Business Insider article, it was explained that Zuckerberg detests meetings and instead prefers face-to-face interactions.
He is known to move around the office toward the end of the day and check on staff, with new managers encouraged to do likewise.
What’s more, Facebook’s managers have access to internal software where they can track project progress and offer general assistance to subordinates.
In the employee’s biannual performance review, managers collect information from this system and incorporate feedback from five or six of the individual’s peers.
In keeping with the role of Facebook management, performance reviews promote the three key values of fairness, development, and transparency.
Employees walk away from the review with a score out of seven, and managers reward exceptional performers with promotions.
Managers use these reviews as checkpoints on employee progress such that poorly performing individuals are likely terminated before they reach their next review.
For the leadership example, let’s review current Apple CEO Tim Cook.
In a Q&A session at Duke University, Cook emphasized that leaders must “write their own rules”.
The best leaders know when to follow the rules and when to throw them away, but to do this, they must look outward and avoid blind adherence to the status quo.
In a 2019 manifesto, Cook stated that as a company, “We believe that we are on the face of the Earth to make great products, and that’s not changing.”
Cook has also made good on his promise to own and control the primary tech behind Apple’s core products, entering chip production to supply iMacs and iPhones.
Cook is a democratic leader who is trusting of the numerous senior executives around him.
He understands that there are limits to his knowledge and that others also have the capacity for innovation and brilliance.
One example is SVP of Worldwide Marketing Philip Schiller, who Cook admitted in 2020 “has helped make Apple the company it is today, and his contributions are broad, vast, and run deep.”
Cook is a leader who consistently does the right thing. When the company’s share price plummeted, he chose to forfeit around 33% of stock-based compensation worth around $133 million over 8 years.
Cook is also transparent. When he was criticized over working standards for Apple’s global employees, he opened the doors to the public so they could see how operations functioned in reality.
In the process, he restored confidence in Apple and redefined labor standards for manufacturers.
- 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.
Connected Leadership Concepts And Frameworks