Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” – Stephen Covey

One of the major discussions in today’s world is centered on the correlation between management and leadership. There are people who talk about the two systems as interchangeable, while many believe the two are inherently different ways of operating.

In this guide, we’ll explore the topic and outline some of the key differences between the two. We’ll look at the definitions and the qualities it takes to be a leader or a manager. We’ll then present you with the three key areas where the two diverge: outlining the mission, achieving objectives and taking risks, and treating the subordinates.


To understand the differences between leadership and management it’s essential to examine the definitions of the practices. The Oxford Dictionary defines management as, “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people”. The practice is generally linked with words such as directing, controlling, organizing and planning. The objective of management is to ensure the specific group of people moves in harmony towards the established goals. Under management, the goals are set out and the processes to achieve them are identified by the management. The goal is to achieve these objectives as efficiently as possible.

In a Guardian article, John Kotter, professor of leadership at Harvard University, defined the essence of management as, “a set of processes that keep an organization functioning.” Management deals with many day-to-day activities that can even seem mundane. Management will be in charge of planning and researching objectives and processes; ensuring the right people are in the right positions; measuring and supervising the performance; and finding solutions when things go wrong. Management is also in charge of allocating the resources for completing the tasks between subordinates. The sources can range from financial to technological, for example. Management is a position of authority, in which the authority typically comes from the position. This could be due to the hierarchy or the seniority of the organizational structure. In essence, the management has subordinates who work for them and are expected to follow the management when it comes to completing the tasks.

Management could also be viewed as a human action – a process of accomplishing a specific goal using any available resources. If thought in this way, management could also be about self-management. Overall, management is perfectly described by the graph below, which details the core aspects of management: planning, organizing, directing, and controlling.



What about leadership? The Oxford Dictionary defines leadership as, “the action of leading a group of people or an organization, or the ability to do this”. The definition already shows the major difference between management and leadership. While management talked about directing the process to achieve a goal, leadership is more interested in how to move a group of people towards a goal. In its essence, leadership is about influencing and motivating the specific group of people. The leader is concerned about supporting the team during the process and empowering the team, rather than simply supervising that everything is done as previously planned.

John Kotter said in the Guardian interview that leadership is “about aligning people to the vision, that means buy-in and communication, motivation and inspiration”. Therefore, instead of focusing on the effectiveness of the processes used, leadership wants to focus on the personnel and to ensure they are giving their best to boost the efficiency of the processes.

In short, the focus is on the people and not the handling of the work or the processes. The emphasis can be on creating the right environment to achieve objectives, such as empowering employees and enhancing innovative thinking, rather than the concrete provision of resources, such as providing enough equipment to do the work efficiently.

Furthermore, authority in leadership is not at the heart of the process. Leadership doesn’t have subordinates in the sense that leading is always a voluntary decision and action. Leadership needs followers; subordinates who have bought-in on the vision laid out by the leadership and subordinates who are motivated by the leader and therefore, want to help him or her work towards this vision. Although leadership requires authority, it doesn’t get the authority from a title or a specific position, but because the subordinates and other stakeholders hand it out voluntarily.

Leadership can be defined in a number of different ways, depending on the leadership style. The YouTube video below by Doug Lennick is an example of defining leadership:


Leadership can be linked to the position of management; a manager can be a leader as well as a manager. Therefore, certain skills and qualities, which are required for both management and leadership, are bound to overlap in the two systems.

But the two also have distinct qualities, which, while also enhancing their ability to perform in the other role, are more suited for either position. By examining these qualities, you can also see the differences of management and leadership through real examples.

The requirements of managers

Since management is task-oriented, managers need to be able to focus on details. The four core qualities of great managers are:

  • Rational – A good manager is able to look at things rationally and apply logical thinking when it comes to solving problems and setting goals. Since the objective is to focus on the effective accomplishment of goals, the manager has to understand the realities he or she is facing. Rational thinking is essential for allocating the resources and setting the objectives for the team.
  • Analytical – Ability to analyze details and find the connections between processes can boost the way a manager operates. Analytical thinking can help identify objectives and the proper use of resources.
  • Ability to solve problems – A manager must also be good at solving problems. If the team encounters a problem, the management must be at the core of finding a solution. This requires a cool head, an intelligent mind and quick thinking.
  • Perseverance – The task of supervising, directing and managing resources is not an easy feat and efficient management puts a lot of pressure on the manager. Therefore, a manager must be able to stand tall under pressure and keep calm even when things go wrong.

A position of management requires a lot of skill from the person. It’s a position where intelligence and persistency are rewarded.

The requirements of leaders

On the other hand, leadership is more people-oriented and this means a leader must possess plenty of emotional intelligence. The core characteristics of a leader are:

  • Charisma–Since a leader needs to inspire the subordinates to follow his or her cause, charisma is an important characteristic. Charisma helps the leader to create a positive environment inspiring others to take action. Since a leader is not supposed to force or intimidate people to perform the required tasks, charismatic skills can enhance the leader’s chances of getting followers involved.
  • Innovative – A leader must also show plenty of innovative skills. Leadership is about transformation at its essence and change always requires the ability to think outside of the box. A leader needs to be able to look at problems, but also at existing situations, and find out different ways to change things around.
  • Visionary – Similar to being innovative, a leader must be a visionary. A strong and realistic vision guarantees followers listen to the leader and work hard towards the goal. A leader won’t be able to inspire the subordinates by laying out plans that aren’t challenging, transforming and inspiring. A true leader must have the ability to see beyond the future.
  • Flexible – Leadership requires plenty of flexibility because you are dealing with people not tasks. Since people are at the core of the approach, the leader must be able to accommodate and respond to situations that might not have been expected. Since persuasion should be part of the leader’s skill set, the leader also needs to be flexible in his or her approach to solving conflict situations.

The position of leadership is a position that requires a lot of technical, but also personal skill. The leader’s ability to influence and empower people is at the core of the position. Nonetheless, a leader also needs to be able to come up with transformative ideas to guarantee followers look up to him or her.


Now that we’ve examined the differences in definition and the personality types that make great managers and leaders, we can look closer at some of the other defining differences. At the heart of the divergence is the view management and leadership have on the mission – the ultimate goal.

As we’ve discussed, management is task-oriented and therefore, the focus tends to be on achieving the objectives as efficiently as possible. Management focuses on running the existing operations and doing it as smoothly as possible. In essence, the focus is on maintaining the status quo. There is no desire to switch processes or look beyond the processes and goals that are currently working.

Management generally has a set mission, which often deals with increasing profitability or productivity. These guide the management’s decision-making and task setting – processes are used based on their effectiveness. When it comes to changing a process or switching roles around, the key consideration is always on the impact the change will have on the efficiency of the mission. For example, management hires people based on their ability to fulfill a specific role. Subordinates and processes are always geared towards ultimate efficiency, which moves the team or the organization towards profitability or productivity.

Since management’s role is to find the most effective processes in order to achieve the mission, the focus is not on trialing new approaches or experimenting with different things. Once management finds a process that works, then it will stick to it as long as the process can be proven more effective than another method. Management is not about revolutionizing things around, but continuing on the safe path towards the objectives. Management sees that it is the processes what make the system work, not the people.

The traditional approach to management shows it to be machine-like. Management is in charge of a machine, with the processes and subordinates each representing a function or a part of the machine. Therefore, the ultimate mission for management is to ensure each part is working well; as the management knows that if one part fails, the whole mission can fail. But this also creates the worldview that the machine is the most important part, not any individual part. When a part fails, management will replace it or fix it as soon as possible.

The manager can’t risk keeping the machine from running and therefore the focus is on ensuring it’s back running quickly, not whether the part itself is fixed. Consider a subordinate is not performing the role as efficiently as possible. The manager notices it’s causing problems and therefore will take the person aside to check what’s the issue. The manager’s focus is on getting the work done, whether by providing the person with more resources or by getting someone else to perform the role.

On the other hand, leadership’s ultimate mission is about transformation. The objective is to adapt to changing circumstances and to change the organization around. Leadership isn’t interested about status quo, but achieving something new – working towards greater success and recognition. The emphasis is not on profit or productivity, but empowerment and innovation. It’s not to say, profit isn’t important, but it’s more of a by-product following success. The vision itself is more about specific values and approaches to work and the industry. The vision is laid out with the leader’s personal values in mind, with the values resonating with the organization’s values.

As leadership is people-oriented in its approach, the mission is more people-focused as well. The focus is on helping people to adjust to changing circumstances and empower them to perform better. In leadership, the machine – or the processes – is not the key to success, but the people making the machine work. Therefore, leadership sees that the functions of the machine can always be changed according to the abilities of the people. In terms of hiring subordinates, a leader is not necessarily as focused on the technical skills and the ability to perform the tasks, but the person’s approach to work and whether they are willing to work towards the mission.

Leadership is interested in the ideas and values the subordinates can provide for the team, not just their effectiveness in getting things done. Since the mission is focused on transforming and changing things around, leadership is always on the lookout for new ideas. Subordinates are seen to provide value for the team, not just through labour, but also through their ability to think differently.

Therefore, to summarize the differences in approach and setting out the mission:

Management’s mission is… Leadership’s mission is…
… Administrative and rational

… Task-oriented

… Concerned about the bottom line

… Focused on maintaining, accepting the status quo

… Innovative and emotional

… People-oriented

… Concerned about what’s on the horizon

… Focused on transformation, challenging the status quo


But the differences don’t end in the way management and leadership define the mission for the team. Due to the divergent approaches in terms of the vision, the two differ on how the objectives are approached and the kind of risks they are willing to take.

Management’s approach is driven by the emphasis on results. As mentioned earlier, the whole objective is to achieve results (profitability, productivity) as efficiently as possible. Therefore, the management emphasizes achieving the objectives in everything the team does. The focus in on creating a framework consisting of strategies, policies and processes, which will help the team get close to the objectives fast and without encountering problems. The management spends a lot of time concerned with the framework and honing it to its perfection. Once the objectives are set, management will spend time figuring out the best people and the most efficient methods for achieving these goals.

During the process, the management team will ensure the procedures are followed and problems in the framework are solved swiftly. As we’ve discussed above, the manager’s job is often to ensure the right people are placed in positions, which suit their skills the best. Management is in a sense about empowering people through the soliciting of employees in their most suitable position. The management team wants people to achieve results efficiently and therefore, a level of consultation with the employees is always part of creating the framework. The important thing to note about it is that the manager doesn’t have to facilitate all the different views.

Due to the emphasis being on results, the management framework is also risk-averse. Management is not about testing out new processes or taking a risk with the strategy – the emphasis is on frameworks that are proven and effective. The framework is not experimental and subordinates are not allowed to step outside of the established processes, especially without consulting with the management. The risk-averse nature stems also from the kind of authority management uses.

Under the managerial system, authority is always in the hands of the manager and the management team. Therefore, the subordinates are not able to make decisions or adjust the framework even slightly without consulting the management first. Since the authority and control are placed in the hands of the management, the system decreases risk even further. The probability of risk goes down because the management is in control of every aspect of the framework.

Leadership tries to achieve objectives through a different framework. The focus is not on established, rigid processes, strategies and policies, but rather on discovery and accomplishment. Instead of focusing on the result, the objectives are about achieving something new (discovering a new technique, empowering subordinates, achieving new sales records).

In effect, leadership looks at everything as a challenge to innovate. Even when something is not a major problem for the organization, leadership is still interested in checking whether it could be done differently or improved in some way. The framework for leaders is not about establishing a set of policies to guide work, but to create a system where ideas are examined and re-evaluated to find out innovations. As mentioned earlier, the framework is built on constant transformation.

Furthermore, leadership emphasizes motivation and commitment, with the employees picked according to how involved they are with the project. The emphasis is not necessarily on the current skillset, but rather on providing personal growth opportunities to each employee. A leader wouldn’t simply ask, “What can you do now?” but focuses on “What could you do if given these tools?

Since change and innovation are at the hearth of leadership and its approach to achieving objectives, the system is more risk-taking. Leadership doesn’t steer away from risk, but instead embraces it – without some risk-taking, change is harder to achieve successfully. There is an element of conscious risk-taking, as leaders will understand new ideas and innovations can occasionally turn out wrong. But not all risk is purposely sought after. Leadership doesn’t mean taking unnecessary risks or gambling away the sustainability of the organization. Nonetheless, the transformative nature will inherently leave the system with higher risk than management. In a way, leadership also requires more risk taking on the part of the employee.

A leader’s authority is always based on how trustworthy the subordinates find the vision. Whilst management enjoys authority based on the title or the position, leadership is built on mutual trust in the leader’s vision. Subordinates who choose to follow a leader and participate in the new approach are also taking a risk.

To conclude the main differences of the two systems in terms of achieving objectives and taking risks:

Management is… Leadership is…
… Focused on results

… Looking answers to how and when

… Short-term

… Risk-averse

… Focused on achievements and change

… Looking answers to what and why

… Long-term

… Risk-taking


The final major area of difference between management and leadership relates to their specific approaches to dealing with subordinates. The major divergence in communication is based on how the manager and the leader view the subordinate. Whereas a leader will consider the subordinates as followers and equal members of the team, the manager subscribes to a hierarchy of power. Subordinates under management are employees under the manager; there to perform the tasks as the management tells them, following the guidelines. Management has a strict authority and power structure, with the management on top and the subordinates below. Naturally, the management can, depending on their position in the organization, be beneath a senior management team. Nonetheless, management is always in a position of power over its subordinates.

Having the power and authority concentrated in the hands of the manager influences the approach to communication. Management doesn’t generally involve subordinates in the decision-making or planning process, especially in terms of guaranteeing the subordinates any real effective way to influence the process. Feedback channels are established, but these tend not to focus on things such as ideas on changing the existing framework. If feedback is sought, it focuses on improvements of the existing frameworks or ensuring the subordinates are aware of the tasks, which they must perform. In essence, the management is about communicating instructions, making it a rather one-sided discussion.

On the other hand, under a leadership system, the authority is much more open, with different leadership styles delegating authority among the subordinates to a varying degree. Since subordinates are viewed more equally, the leader doesn’t shy away from feedback or input. In fact, leadership is eager to identify the subordinates who are motivated to put themselves out there and learn while working towards the set objective. The communication structure is a two-way process, where the leader listens to the subordinates and their ideas into account. This doesn’t mean the subordinates necessarily have actual decision-making power or that all the ideas are implemented, but at least leadership provides them more opportunities to voice their opinion. Management is about telling the subordinate “This is what you have to do”; while leadership is about showing the subordinate, “This is what we should do”.

Another essential part of the interaction is the methodology the approaches use in order to motivate the subordinates. Both styles can be understood in the context of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The motivational theory presents an idea in which human needs are depicted as layers within a pyramid, with each stage creating a new layer for motivation. The pyramid has three layers: basic needs, psychological needs, and self-fulfillment needs.

Source: Simply Psychology website

The lower levels of the pyramid drive management’s approach to motivation. The idea is that subordinates are looking for job security to fulfil their most basic needs and therefore, fear of rejection keeps them motivated. Management keeps employees involved through the fear of punishment, with the security of a job providing enough motivation to keep working. Subordinates are thought to be rather disengaged from the rewards of the work, but put crudely: only show up to get the paycheck.

On the other hand, leadership feels people are using careers as a way to meet the higher-level needs. By providing the subordinate the chance to self-actualization, leaders can motivate and inspire the subordinate. Therefore, challenging the subordinate to enhance their own skills and understanding, and providing them with opportunities for personal growth, the leader can help them fulfill the higher-level needs and keep them motivated to work towards the common vision.

Furthermore, as previously discussed, the emphasis is on finding the best people to perform the pre-determined roles. Since the framework is the key to success, the processes are set and the management needs to fill these specific roles, not add something new to the team. Therefore, the ability to perform the tasks and the character fit to the role at hand is at the core of the hiring process.

On the other hand, leadership is looking more towards the characteristics of the person and whether he or she is a value-based fit, instead of a specific set of skills. For the leader, the person’s motivation and willingness to follow the vision are keys in determining whether the person should fit the team.

Management… Leadership…
… Views subordinates as employees

… Communicates in a telling style

…. Delegates tasks with authority

… Motivates with punishment and intimidation

… Emphasizes skills and fit for the role

… Views subordinates as followers

… Communicates through discussion

… Delegates authority

… Motivates with empowerment and personal development

… Emphasizes value and business culture match


In his 1989 book, On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis made the distinction that while management is about doing things right, leadership is about doing the right things. The analysis is still rather fitting, as management’s focus is task-oriented and result driven. On the other hand, leadership emphasizes people and transformation, with values at the core of the decision-making process.

The leader is interested in empowering people and working towards a bigger, long-term vision, while the manager lives in the present, with the objective being on short-term goals and efficiency. The ‘machine’, or the operational framework, is at the centre of how management deals with subordinates and how it sets objectives. Whereas leadership will concentrate on ensuring the parts running the operational framework are developed. If things go wrong, management would change the parts while leadership will simply adjust the framework.

Although management and leadership differ from each other, the two styles can be equally important to an organization. Management has undoubtedly been important, especially in organizations where efficiency has been the key for success, but the rise of modern economies has meant that management as a style can be damaging for an organization as well. For the organization to work efficiently in the current moment and in the future, it has to find equilibrium between management and leadership.

Without management, the more mundane effectiveness of the organization might be neglected, while the innovative and transformative nature of leadership is essential for continued success. By empowering the subordinates and focusing on long-term goals, teams can achieve much more than simply staring at short-term productivity.

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