The Difference Between Leadership & Management

And why it matters to everyone

Lee Serpa Azevado
Jun 10 · 6 min read
Photo by rob walsh on Unsplash

Let’s start with some definitions.

The OED defines a manager as a person responsible for controlling or administering an organization or group of staff.

The same source defines a leader as the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.

There may appear little to no difference in the above definitions.

Yet, there are differences. They are subtle by way of definition. But they are in stark contrast to one another in practice.

And understanding the differences in practice is key to running a team or organisation well.

Managers focus on setting and achieving objectives. Managers focus on achieving objectives regardless of the cost to their staffs’ well-being.

Leaders also have objectives. But, unlike managers, they will focus on inspiring and engaging with their staff. They create and promote a positive work culture. With this approach, their staff are more willing to work towards the objectives.

Leaders create a work environment that makes their staff want to follow them. A good leader will attract staff who want to work with them.

Managers instruct their staff to follow. Those that follow are the ‘boss pleasers.’ Those that do not are the staff that feel undervalued.

Managers spend their days instructing staff. If a task is not completed a manager will look only at the staff member for an explanation.

Leaders work alongside their staff to achieve goals. Leaders never ask a staff member to do something they would not be prepared to do themselves. Invariably, tasks will not be completed. A good leader will take a holistic approach to inquire why the task is incomplete.

Managers main focus is on the completion of tasks on time. Managers give little consideration to inspiring their staff.

Leaders are able to delegate tasks without telling their staff what to do. A good leader will guide their staff to complete tasks.

Managers focus on creating processes to get tasks completed. Not staff morale.

Leaders focus on not only their staff but other stakeholders. Leaders build trust and loyalty by leading by example.

Managers will avoid taking risks for fear of failure. Managers stick with the way things have always been done.

Leaders are open to taking positive risks. They understand that failure is something to learn from. Not something to be fearful of.

Leaders will seek change with the aim of service improvement.

Leaders allow their staff to get to know them. Leaders are not afraid to ask their employees for advice. Leaders work with their staff.

Managers remain distant, unapproachable and unknown on a personal level to their staff.

Managers stick with the way things have always been done. Leaders will seek change with the aim of service improvement.

When I graduated as a psychiatric nurse I applied for a job at my current employers. To my surprise, they informed me that through their national recruitment process I was one of four of the highest scoring candidates.

The organisation presented this initiative as somewhat of a ‘head-hunting’ process.

The organisation would coach and mentor us towards progression and promotion. To positions of leadership within the organisation.

A year or so later, I came to the realisation this organisation was seeking future managers, not leaders.

I am currently a senior nurse co-running an acute psychiatric ward in the same organisation. In terms of job roles, I am referred to, by my managers as a deputy ward manager. To my team, my role is referred to as a charge nurse (a senior nurse that co-leads the team).

I could probably progress in this organisation. But in doing so, the requirement is to become a manager. And I would find that morally challenging. I would be expected to implement changes that are not conducive to the well-being of the staff or patients. In my current role, I am able to remain a leader and a nurse.

Photo by Andreas Klassen on Unsplash

Due to being regarded by my managers as a manager, my role dictates that I must attend regular management meetings.

I view these meetings as a crash course in how not to lead a team. Senior members of management attend these meetings. I hear them refer to our patients in a depersonalised way. And they view their employees as mere commodities to complete objectives.

At the last management meeting, there was a discussion of upcoming changes. These changes relate to management’s attempt to improve our record keeping.

Yet, these changes will not equate to better quality of care. In fact, they do the opposite. They give less time between nurse and patient.

Although I provide care, I still provide a service to patients. The above dictatorial approach to implementing change could be applied to any industry or business sector.

I find the above-mentioned changes morally challenging. A leader would not do that.

Due to my managers being managers and not leaders they do not see this.

Incidentally, I am the only one of the four ‘head-hunted’ candidates that remain employed in my organisation. The other three have all left to go and work elsewhere.

Prior to their departure, we all discussed the lack of inspirational leaders within the organisation.

I had the good fortune to work with who I regarded as the organisation’s best leader. He was a leader in every sense of the word.

He was well-respected by his teams. Many staff wanted to be in his teams. He was inspiring, innovative and personable.

He had a reputation for implementing changes without requesting authorisation from senior management. He would inform them once he had done so. Then he would present them with the positive outcomes of his most recent changes. Suffice to say, he also no longer works for this organisation.

In returning to the title of this piece, I have covered the differences between leadership and management.

The subtitle states ‘and why it matters to everyone.’ It is my firmly held belief that a bad manager would not have read this far. A good or aspiring leader would have. A good leader would intuitively know why the difference matters to everyone.

In terms of team members, there is a plethora of evidence out there that informs us of the benefits of leadership over management. Not just in achieving objectives. But also in the context of ensuring your team members feel inspired, supported and valued.

It also matters to the leader too. Many of us will spend much of our life working. In many cases, more than a third of a day is socially expected to be spent at work. In summary, we spend an awful lot of time at work. Our work is a big part of our life.

The life of a bad manager is not fun. The life of a good leader, doing something that you enjoy and are passionate about can be purposeful.

“Power isn’t control at all. Power is strength, and giving that strength to others. A leader isn’t someone who forces others to make him stronger; a leader is someone willing to give his strength to others that they may have the strength to stand on their own.” Beth Revis, Across the Universe.


Be better at whatever you're building.

Thanks to Glen Binger

Lee Serpa Azevado

Written by

Part-time psych nurse/writer. Scribbler of stuff about mental health, personal growth, politics, equality and other such stuff.



Be better at whatever you're building.

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