Managing vs Leading

What’s the difference of management vs leadership?

People sometimes use the terms management and leadership interchangeably, without paying attention to the important differences between them. While managers are often in a leadership role, they may not necessarily go about their jobs as a leader (even if it would be better if they did).

Some leaders are not responsible for managing staff, but instead charged with creating and maintaining a shared vision and motivation amongst a team.

While the difference might be subtle, if we take some time to think about what it means to manage, and what it means to lead, the insight can help us do a better job of both. Let's look to how the differences of management vs leadership:


Webster’s, useful book that it is, defines management as “the act or manner of managing; handling, direction, or control.” Realistically, management is all about the control and regulation of resources. Sometimes those resources fall in the politically correct (and slightly troubling) category of “Human Capital”

“Human capital”, also known as people, is the real realm of the leader. The leader is good at handling the tangible and intangible needs of the people under their charge. The manager is tasked with making sure that the all the groups resources, including the people, get the job done. In management vs leadership, the manager is more directly charged with getting the job done, rather than seeing to the team on the whole.

As you can see, leaders can often be managers, but some managers forget to be leaders by minding the well-being and development of their team. The key to management vs leadership is being aware of the more abstract elements of leading people.

Making the step to leadership:

Of course, it’s not impossible for a manager to become a leader. The differences of management vs leadership are subtle. Sometimes it just takes being aware of what they need to do to fulfill their responsibilities as a leader. Managers can become effective leaders by keeping the following people-oriented tasks on their radar:

  • Morale: Being aware of your teams morale (and staying active in keeping it high) is one of the defining traits of a leadership. Working toward good morale will move you solidly in the direction of being leader.
  • Empowerment: Making an investment in the tools for your team to get their job down isn’t just good project management; it shows a respect and a concern for them as individuals. Making it easier for your team to do their job helps motivate them and keep things running smoothly.
  • Scheduling: As a manager you have responsibility over timelines, but the awareness of how the affect the human element is the mark of a leader. Managers can easily see milestones and deadlines; leaders have to worry about the intangibles of how those deadlines affect teams.
  • Team-building: Working to build a team with people who not only work effectively on their own, but together, is one of the greatest assets of a leader. By focusing each person’s strengths, and mitigating their weaknesses, the leader can get much more out of the team.
  • Sense of Fit: For teams to be very effective, every member of the group needs to feel as if they have a role to fulfill that matches their interests. By providing that fit between the needs of the team and the skills of the individual, everyone performs up to their potential. Additionally, showing them how their skills contribute to group success makes bring pride in what they can provide, making them more likely to shine.

How to make the jump from manager to leader:

Sometimes we get promoted into the responsibility of leadership and we never really signed up for it. That’s OK though, because so long as we keep aware of what we need to do, and constantly strive to improve, the jump to leadership isn’t hard. Remember the differences of management vs leadership and look at these steps:

Steps to take:

  • Assess your role: The more aware you are of what you are trying to achieve, the more you will orient yourself towards achieving it. The constant reinforcement can help keep you on track.
  • Consider the environment: In the same way that it helps to know yourself, it also helps to be aware of the environment you are trying to work in. Remember what can cause problems and what can be of help, and then play to those rules.
  • Make an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses: Being honest with ourselves helps make it possible to play to our strengths and mitigate weaknesses. By keeping very aware of our talents and our goals, we can combine them successfully.
  • Develop a long term plan: A series of short-term, attainable goals make progress easier. By knowing what you are trying to achieve, we have a much easier time making progress and doing the best thing to get to where we want to go. Without a definite plan, we can end up wandering without direction, wasting opportunities to grow.
  • Use your plan to evaluate your actions: We make decisions out of habit, instinct and practice. That works great if we are content with the way we solve problems now, but if we are trying to change, we need to be intentional about what we do. Using your awareness of what you want to be, and what your strengths and weaknesses are (see above), you can decide what course of action reflects the leader you want to be, and you can act accordingly. The key is to run through that list mentally every time you confront a problem. Consider the definition of what it means to be an active leader, and determine whether you are fulfilling them or not. That quick meditation can keep you on target until leadership skills become habit.

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Move away from management vs leadership, and do them both by learning to lead effectively with these leadership styles