Leadership versus Management

There are many similarities between the characteristics of being a leader and a manager, but the differences between leading and managing are not always clear, even though the emphases of the two competences are quite apparent.

“Managers maintain things, whereas leaders change things.”

Management can be seen as task-orientated, and is predominantly associated with getting the job done efficiently and effectively to the necessary standard and within the set parameters. Leadership, on the other hand, could be explained as the ability to involve people at an emotional level in such a way that they are as a minimum willing and at best eager and enthusiastic about allocating their energy into the tasks that will accomplish the vision of success.​

If effective management is central to the success and value of an organisation, then what sustains this is leadership.


At the very core, effective management focuses on processes and tasks whereas leadership focuses on vision and people.

“A much quoted bromide…defines ‘management’ as the skill of getting people to do something that you want them to do because you want them to do it and ‘leadership’ as the art of getting people to do something you want them to do because they want to do it.” [3]

​[1] Derived from Warren Bennis “Introducing Change” in Executive Excellence, November 1994.

[2] Derived from Warren Bennis “Introducing Change” in Executive Excellence, November 1994.

[3] Sal F. Marino, “The Difference Between Managing and Leading”, Industry Week, June 17, 1999.


1. Management can be taught, because it is rational and logical and therefore open to the application of rigorous analysis.
2. Management is concerned with the optimal delivery of pre-stated objectives. It’s about predictability, so that the managed can learn from the examples and standards set by the manager.
3. Management is about the containment of risk. Too little management can be a threat for a business.
4. Management alone can stifle innovation and prevent change and therefore, finally, paralyse a business.
5. Management must be exercised in conjunction with a vision derived from a leader. A subject for reflection is this: are managers usually followers? A manager might have ultimate executive control within an organisation, but the path that is followed may have been set by a past leader. That said, ‘management’ and ‘followership’ should not be taken as uncomplimentary terms.
6. Plans and budgets are often the manager’s priorities, with a need to move people into position for implementation.
7. Strategy, vision and longer-term thinking are the priorities of the leader, who must measure the distance, together with the hurdles, and inspire people towards vision realisation.
8. A critical element of leadership is the need for a leader to embody or personify the vision. This is leadership from the top — leadership that encourages followers towards vision realisation.
9. Leadership operates at a different pace and a different rhythm from management.
10. Business has generated many more managers than leaders because management is linear in a way that leadership is not. Career paths have historically been clearly established, with defined stages and a high degree of predictability — in short, risk-containing. Management development has focused on the acquisition of specialist knowledge and managers are usually experts in their chosen field.


It is often argued that large institutions need fewer leaders than managers and that an organisation entirely comprised of leaders would be one without a cohesive structure. While this may be true, organisations have become expert in the development of managers, but still remain amateurish in the development of leaders.

Management and leadership are very different, but the value we place on leadership is such that the term management seems to have increasingly acquired a negative sense in contrast. There are many outstandingly able individuals who are either running major corporations, or at least at the front of them, who would hesitate at the term manager rather than leader, even when their skills are clearly aligned to those of management.​

A key point to end this discussion on is that linear and lateral thinking are both critical to a successful enterprise. As a result, management and leadership need to complement one another. While it may be right to value leadership, this should not be at the expense of recognising the importance of good management. Although it is critical to be clear about the difference between management attributes and leadership qualities, most research shows that is not a question of either/or today, but a question of and/both.

Originally published at www.meedah.com.

Meedah Group Limited is a boutique consulting and advisory firm. @meedahgroup meedah.com