What Is the Difference Between Leadership and Management?

what is the difference between leadership and management

Do the terms ‘manager’ and ‘leader’ mean the same thing? People often use them interchangeably. But the truth is: they’re not the same. There are many differences between leadership and management, along with many similarities.

In the post-COVID-19 era, managers are expected to be leaders. However, the general situation is: Not all managers are leaders and not all leaders are managers.

A company or organization may be better positioned towards success if it can turn its managers into leaders.

But how? And what makes a leader exactly?

In this article, we’ll define each term, clarify the differences between leadership and management and see where they overlap.

What is management?

A manager is a person appointed by a company to manage specific roles, people, and functions. Their job is to ensure a smooth workflow and resolve internal and external business conflicts, including employee conflicts.

Managers are tasked with performing a series of tasks and ensuring their team members do their part and their tasks accordingly.


What is leadership?

A leader is someone who inspires people and employees to take action. Leadership is about empowering employees through effective, empathetic communication.

A leader is a person who looks to the future and envisions what an organization can become. They lay down plans and collaborate with managers to see how this vision can be achieved

Unlike management, leadership isn’t limited to or bound by certain job roles, titles, or positions.

Here’s another definition of what leadership is:

“Leadership is a set of behaviors used to help people align their collective direction, to execute strategic plans, and to continually renew an organization.”McKinsey

The 5 levels of leadership

There are several schools of thought when it comes to defining leadership. For example, John C. Maxwell views leadership as a pyramid with 5 levels. His 5 levels of leadership are:

  1. Position
  2. Permission
  3. Production
  4. People development
  5. Pinnacle

These 5 levels are also known as the 5 Ps of leadership.

Leadership vs management: Overlapping functions

It’s fair to say there are many overlapping elements or functions between leadership and management.

Here are a few of those overlapping functions. Both leaders and managers:

  • work on achieving goals
  • work with people
  • seek to drive the company or organization forward
  • play a role in motivating others.


What is the difference between leadership and management?

Now that we’ve covered the similarities between leadership and management, let’s look at the differences.

There are several areas or functions where being a manager or leader means different responsibilities for each.

First, here’s a quote by Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People on the difference between leadership and management.

“Effective leadership is putting things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.” —Stephen Covey

1) Leadership vs management: Vision

The first area of difference between leadership and management is the ‘vision.’ Leaders are seen as visionaries.

They’re responsible for creating a company’s vision and outlining how the company, including managers and employees, can achieve that vision.

On the other hand, managers are instructed to follow that vision. They ensure employees work towards a goal or set of goals to achieve that vision.

To achieve the vision, managers should focus on processes such as creating budgets, hiring employees and ensuring they maintain their productivity, and building organizational structures.

When we say managers, we mean managers in all your teams and departments. This includes finance, HR, marketing, sales…etc.


2) Leadership vs management: Organization & alignment 

Leaders lay down long-term goals and vision. They don’t assign roles or work.

Meanwhile, managers are required to divide these long-term goals into shorter-term targets so they can achieve them.

It’s the manager’s job to review available and needed resources and organize them to achieve the short and long-term goals.


3) Leadership vs management: Position & quality 

As mentioned, leaders are visionaries. In addition, the term ‘leader’ is vague, making it harder to measure impact and results.

Meanwhile, managers have fixed job descriptions, set roles, and specific skillsets that help them create strategies and achieve goals.

A leader can be anyone. They don’t have to be a manager or senior executive. Being a leader isn’t bound by role or position.

On the other hand, a manager is someone you hire to do a specific job or perform a set number of tasks. You don’t hire a leader but you can uncover leadership traits by observing others or using psychometric tests.

Being a leader means you act in a certain way. It means inspiring others so they look up to you, respect you, follow you, and do their best.

What makes a leader?

Not all leaders are managers, and not all managers are leaders. But if you have managers in your company, you should strive to turn them into leaders.

Similarly, if you have employees who exhibit leadership traits, then you should see how you can make use of those skills.

To be a leader, you need to:

  • Communicate clearly to build trust. Specifically, communicate the right information to the right people, at the right time.
  • Be aware of the risks and challenges and communicate them. It’s never a good idea to leave employees in the dark.
  • Inspire employees, teams, and managers, and show them how what they’re doing now impacts the future of the company.
  • “Lead and support change” (Gallup).
  • Provide managers with training and development opportunities.
  • Involve managers in brainstorming and decision-making.
  • Listen to managers and their team members.


“When leaders clearly articulate their vision and the approach needed to achieve it, they offer their employees a road map for where to focus their energy. Gallup


Can a manager become a leader?

The simple answer is ‘Yes.’

For a manager to become a leader, they need to have leadership skills and perform the main functions of a leader.

These functions are:

  1. Planning
  2. Organizing
  3. Effective communication
  4. Driving results
  5. Inspiring others

However, it’s not just about performing more functions and roles.

In today’s fast-paced and rapidly-changing business environment and workforce needs, there’s more to be done. Managerial roles aren’t limited to being supervisors or observers any more.

Research by Gallup has found that managers impact employee engagement by as much as 70%.

“The traditional role of a boss as a command-and-control function does not work for today’s workforce,” stresses Gallup. And they’re 100% right.

Managers need to be dynamic and flexible. They need to lead and engage their teams. This is especially the case for small and medium businesses and startups.

However, the biggest problem managers face is the lack of development, especially by the companies they work for. In fact, some managers even fail to develop themselves to rise to leadership positions.

This often results in missed opportunities and declining performance among employees and teams.

Today, managers are expected to play leadership roles, to inspire their teams, to coach them, and help them grow, and accordingly grow the business.



Today’s workforce needs the manager-leader type of person, not someone to simply envision where an organization is going or what it can be. The workforce doesn’t need managers to ‘just control’ employees.

They need managers who can empathize and engage, who can include them in the company’s growth and decisions.

At the same time, business owners, HR, and managers need to realize that leadership is a skill. It’s one that can be developed and improved. It’s a skill that relies on emotional intelligence and positive influence.

Having leaders in your company can also improve employee retention and productivity and reduce turnover.

Done right, leadership can help managers bring out the best in themselves and in their teams.


Further reading



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