What do a company executive, mid-level manager, and project lead all have in common?
Believe it or not, a person in the C-suite and someone overseeing a small team possess many of the same skills. The main difference between them is how they apply these skills — which also sets leadership versus management apart.
Effective leadership inspires with forward-thinking vision and objectives, which good management breaks down into achievable, resource-driven goals. But here’s a little-known secret: great leaders are good people managers, and successful managers know how to lead.
Learning to channel both skill sets can help you take advantage of your potential, drive results, and get the most out of your teams.
What do leadership and management mean?
Leaders and managers are two sides of the same coin. Before we dive into the key differences between leadership and management, let’s define them and how they work together.
Leadership centers around inspiring and motivating team members to achieve a strategic vision and shared goal. Their conviction and excitement encourage you to engage and buy into their ideas — even disruptive innovation that challenges everything you’ve ever known about your industry.
Management revolves around coordinating a business’ resources effectively to achieve its objectives. Great managers find ways to transform a leader’s vision into day-to-day operations. They plan, organize, and coordinate tasks and ensure team members stay on top of short and long-term goals.
Strong leadership and management skills are equally important. A leader with an innovative vision can be derailed by management that creates a toxic work environment or ineffectively allocates resources. Likewise, great management is affected by leadership who has unrealistic organizational goals or resists change.
Leading versus managing: What’s the difference?
Let’s break down some key distinctions between leaders and managers. Here are six to consider (plus some leadership versus management examples):
1. Direction and planning
Leaders set the team or company’s direction, inspiring everyone around them to follow a common goal. Managers, on the other hand, work to drive their teams toward that big picture. They create short-term goals, delegate tasks, and leverage the resources to achieve the company’s vision. In other words, leadership sets the course, and management takes the team on the journey.
Imagine an app development company. A leader may paint a picture of an innovative new artificial intelligence service that changes the market. It’s then up to the manager to create an action plan and organize personnel to develop the product, see it through to launch, and keep on top of its evolution and maintenance.
2. Transformations and transactions
Leadership looks toward transformative processes to drive change and push the boundaries of their business and industry.
Effective leaders have a growth mindset, meaning they value continuous learning, self-reflection, and creative thinking. This, in turn, inspires their team to transform their skills and workflow patterns.
Conversely, strong project management is transactional and focused on exchanging work and rewards rather than developing big-picture ideas and concepts. Management requires you to flex your resource and time management skills to build initiatives that bolster employee engagement, such as real-time recognition, compensation, and benefits.
3. Culture and systems
Management builds systems and processes that operationalize this culture. They put systems into place to cultivate an environment of trust and dedication that encourages teams to believe in their work, contribute their best performance, and collaborate with one another.
During quarterly meetings, a leader who stands for a culture of innovation, transparency, and empowerment encourages team members to share ideas fearlessly and become a part of the company’s decision-making processes. For that culture to develop, management might schedule team brainstorming sessions, thank their teams for contributing ideas, or adopt idea management software.
4. People and skills
Part of leaving a legacy through leadership is shaping future leaders. Strong leaders encourage people’s professional development and growth through mentoring, coaching, and creating learning opportunities.
You guessed it: managers are the opposite. While managing people requires coaching and forward-thinking skills, this type of professional primarily seeks to leverage their team’s existing skills to maximize productivity and efficiency. Their soft skills, such as intellectual curiosity, persistence, and critical thinking, come in handy when they have to allocate resources to realize a leader’s vision.
5. Flexibility and stability
One of the most important leadership skills to have is flexibility. The goal of leadership is to drive results and positive change, which means being willing to drop ideas that don’t work and adapt to new solutions.
Good leaders instill that same flexibility in their staff. They foster a sense of autonomy and encourage risk-taking so team members have opportunities to learn and grow.
Management roles, on the other hand, are more concerned with stability. They establish and enforce structures and protocols to ensure consistent and predictable operations.
While flexibility and stability seem opposed, they actually work in unison. You use your leadership skills to develop innovative new ideas and your management skills to turn them into actionable processes.
6. The future and the now
Leaders focus on the future, contemplating where their business fits into the broader industry landscape. Good leaders are in tune with market patterns, trends, and potential disruptions to stay ahead of the curve.
Management concentrates on the day-to-day operations of a business. Their main focuses are short-term goals and immediate problem-solving.
Similarities between leadership and management
Effective leadership and management utilize the same skills in different ways. Let’s break down five similarities:
- Objective-oriented: Good leadership and management require skillful objective building. Although the scale may differ (leaders imagine the macro while managers build out the micro), they utilize strategic thinking, problem-solving, and thoughtful decision-making skills to build realistic objectives and goals.
Motivating: Keeping a team motivated to engage with their work, meet deadlines, and keep the machinery moving is essential to both leadership and management.
Leadership motivates through storytelling, and management motivates with intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, but they both set clear expectations. After all, encouraging teams at every level helps solidify retention and boost morale.
Inspiring: Inspiration and motivation go hand in hand. Inspiring through leadership means exemplifying the behavior and high standards necessary for excellent productivity and efficiency.
Inspiring through management is more outward: it comes from recognizing other people’s work and ideas and rewarding their performance. Leveraging leadership and management skills to inspire teams can encourage people to bring their whole selves to work without fear of judgment or rejection.
- Transparent: Leading and managing people puts you at the forefront. Your actions send messages to your team about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. That’s why accountability, honesty, and transparency are soft skills used in both leadership and management.
If you make a mistake, taking ownership of it encourages your team to accept and learn from their failures, too. Conversely, pushing blame or making excuses signals failure isn’t acceptable and dishonesty is okay.
Open: Both leaders and managers benefit from being open to their team members. If you’ve ever had a boss who felt out of reach, you likely remember this impacting your motivation and engagement with the team. Fostering openness and approachability is critical to creating a culture of trust and respect.
Similarly, this type of environment opens space for learning, feedback, and criticism. An openness to understanding the perspectives of each team member encourages better conflict management, crushes information silos, and stimulates valuable upward communication.
What’s leadership in management?
Leadership skills aren’t reserved for top seats in the C-suite. Even if your career aspirations don’t include moving up the corporate ladder, this strength can come in handy regardless of the professional milestone you’re pursuing.
Let’s dig into ways thinking like a leader can help your career:
1. You’re inspiring
Pushing yourself to reach your fullest potential inspires others around you. This can also lead to networking opportunities: leadership qualities capture the attention of colleagues, hiring managers, and clients who can transform your career.
2. You’re positive
Positivity encourages you to push through disruptive challenges and changing business landscapes, building resilience, conviction, and a willingness to compromise. That positivity will rub off on the people around you, creating a domino effect that stimulates healthy work environments and positive professional relationships.
3. You feel like you belong
Leadership requires you to take ownership of your career path and everyday work, which can build a stronger sense of belonging, purpose, and professional satisfaction. And people who feel a strong sense of meaning tend to be happier and live longer — even more reason to embrace your inner leader.
4. You’re confident
Leaders have to believe in what they’re doing. Their vision and conviction trickle down to everybody they work with. Even if you’re an independent contractor, a strong sense of conviction helps you achieve your goals and manage your clients. Believing in what you do and clearly advocating for your ideas conveys that others should also be confident in your abilities.
5. You have a strong team
Effective leaders promote trust, cooperation, and open communication. In this type of professional environment, people are more likely to share their ideas, act creatively, and take ownership of their work.
Similarly, trust empowers team members to be decisive in their work without fear of micromanagement. As a result, you’ll likely see increased productivity, improved efficiency, and stronger work structures.
Manage like a leader, lead like a manager
On paper, leadership versus management may sound mutually exclusive: one functions to build dreams, and the other turns them into reality. But you don’t have to choose between being a boss or a leader. Great managers and leaders pull from both sets of skills and find the right balance to push themselves and the people around them to accomplish their goals.
It’s a good idea to take stock of your current abilities and ask yourself if you naturally lead or manage. With a little self-awareness, you can work toward bringing the best of both roles to your work.