The Difference between Leadership and Management

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This topic contains 28 replies, has 18 voices, and was last updated by  Ben Tornton 6 months, 1 week ago.

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  • #141182

    Paul Homan

    Last night, in my leadership class we discussed the difference between leading and managing. It was in response to two articles that we had read Managers and Leaders: Are They Different? by Abraham Zaleznick, and What Leaders Really Do by John Kotter.

    Highlighted in these articles were several analogies that explained the difference. Leaders have vision, managers make the vision happen. Leaders think about the future, managers think about the present. It is possible to be great leader, but be a poor manager and vice versa.

    What does anyone think of the key differences between leadership and management? Or does anyone see them as not being different?

  • #141234

    I definitely agree with the couple of examples you shared. Inspiration vs. implementation is the core distinction. Not that great supervisors/manager can’t be inspiring or visionary, but I think leaders are called to be horizon-looking, while managers are meant to guide the folks laying the tracks to get there. I also like the distinction of external (leaders as voice/face of company) vs. internal (managers as heart/soul/systems).

  • #141232

    Mark Hammer

    They’re obviously different, but I think a more fruitful way of looking at it is not in terms of creating two categories of people or jobs, but rather considering how much any given position requires leadership and management. In the same way that few positions within government are truy leadership positions (in the sense that one is relied upon to set direction and make major decisions), few of those “leadership” positions will likely require more than 10% leadership, and some as little as maybe 3%. That doesn’t make it unimportant when it is needed, but it is the nature of the beast that a great many positions seem to be almost entirely about managing with few available opportunities to lead. Personally, if I knew I could get to a job where there was maybe 7% leadership before I die, I’d take a stab at it. But from watching those around me, it’s unlikely I could get beyond the 3% jobs within the next decade, and I’m 59 now, so I’ve decided to just let it pass and stay infantry; I guess 3% isn’t enough or often enough to keep a guy like me satisfied. I don’t find management positions particularly interesting or about anything, but that’s a different thread and another story.

    When I started in government, working in personnel psychology, and asked my director what I should be reading, he directed me to learn more about the distinction between leadership and management, and recommended Elliot Jaques ( ). Jaques places a great deal of emphasis on the time-span that executive leadership thinks in, and has to. I guess the notion is that “leadership” is exemplified by thinking in the long-view, and nesting steps within that view, where mere managing is dealing with what’s in front of you now.

    Again, I think that there is often a great deal about ANY job, from front line supervisor to president, that is taken up with the drudgery and details of the now – the management aspects. And some jobs provide greater opportunity (and requirement) to think about longer time arcs, including not just where you’re headed, but where you’ve been, and the relationship between them. In that respect, I see wisdom as an extremely important element of effective leadership, insomuch as it brings a more contextualist and dialectical perspective into play.

    As I’ve mentioned on GovLoop ad nauseum, it is hard for me to recommend a finer book about leadership in the public sector than the late Larry Terry’s “Leadership of Public Bureaucracies: The administrator as conservator” (… ) It is about the mission, rather than the person, but in stipulating the mission makes abundantly clear how leaders need to think if public institutions are to achieve what they are established and mandated to do in the public interest. It’s a short and enjoyable read. You’d do well to introduce some of its ideas into your class and ponder what may (or may not) be different between leadership in the public and private sectors.

  • #141230

    Paul Homan

    I like that clarification – leader (face) vs. manager (heart). Last night I had separated these roles into a Meyers-Briggs dichotomy – purporting that “P’s” were strong leaders and “J’s” were strong managers.

  • #141228

    Mark Hammer

    Again, I don’t think such categorical distinctions buy one all that much. I think one gets far more mileage by looking at jobs themselves as requiring leadership and management components in varying combinations at various times. In truth, even the most mundane low-level job requires leadership and stewardship from time to time, just not enough for us to designate it as a “leadership” role. Conversely, if you think that “national leaders” don’t spend an inordinate amount of time managing things, working out conflicts between people who report to them, doing paperwork, arranging stuff, attending endless briefings and reading briefing notes, you’re kidding yourself. The face we see may only be in that leadership capacity that forms part of their job, but the rest of the time we don’t see is not spent entirely leading.

    The summer of 2001, I had the pleasure of a behind the scenes tour of parliament here in Ottawa, including the offices of the PM and the Speaker of the House. You learn a lot about people’s jobs by visiting where they work. I can assure you that our PM’s job is not all TV appearances and state dinners. There is a LOT of paperwork and basic management crap. Same goes for the Secretary and Undersecretary of your agency.

    Leadership is something you get to do in your job, if you’re lucky and up to it. It’s not the job, and it’s not who one is. Some folks are more skilled at it when the opportunity arises. Some folks are skilled at it in particular kinds of circumstances but not in all of them.

  • #141226

    Meryland Cuevas

    I’m on my cellphone so I can’t type much, but just wanted to say that it will be the ideal if we can have more managers who are leaders in our government system, some managers really do need to improve on their leadership skills as well as leaders who lack proper managerial skills.

  • #141224

    William Boddie

    I believe it depends on the context and the situation. A leader must be able to assess a given environment and then, based on their assessment, articulate a clear and compelling vision about what needs to happen to realize a desired outcome. Managers also might be expected to visualize or understand an expected outcome and enable the expected outcome to be realized. For example consider President John F. Kennedy’s vision of sending a man to the moon and returning him safely. This was a vision that resulted from Kennedy’s assessment of the environment at that time. Although President Kennedy did not live to see the vision realized, others managed activities and processes such that the vision could be realized. President Kennedy crafted a clear and compelling vision. Others led and managed activities such that the vision could be realized. Although there might be distinctions between leadership and management, both are needed to enable an expected outcome to be realized.

  • #141222

    Paul Homan

    I totally agree with this statement! I believe there are people who tend to favor one or or the other, and are then reticent to improve the other skills.

  • #141220

    Paul Homan

    I think Kennedy is a great example of a leader, who had the foresight to hire really great managers for his team. Reagan is another example. Bush I, I think was a great manager – but lacked that leadership joie de vivre.

  • #141218

    William T. Mayall

    Just one cautionary note about using MBTI results as an indicator regarding leadership ability. MB deals with preferences. My experience looking at leader assessment results for students over a number of years using a number of assessment batteries that measure things like extroversion and introversio,n is that while there might be some clear advantages in terms of being an effective leader regarding the “things” leaders need to do to be effective (I’m thinking here of the social/public dimensions of leadership and being an “E” is helpful), an “I” can make themselves do those kinds of things. Of course, when an “I” does that, it can be draining and take a lot of emotional energy if you will. An “I” who clearly understands what is required of a leader to be effective (like engagement with his/her people), can make themselves engage in “E-like” activities (and find themselves exhausted at the end of the day!). The same thing holds true for the other dimensions measured. To generalize, the key is to recognize your strong preferences and then engage in behaviors that might help you achieve better balance. One way to “compensate” is to balance out teams or projects with others who have a different set of preferences than the leader.

  • #141216

    Peter Sperry

    One thing I have noticed is that managers with poor leadership skills can often muddle through and produce acceptable if not inspiring results. Leaders with poor managment skills almost inevitably crash, burn and take thier followers down with them.

    Also, there has been a growing trend since the development of mass media to equate leadership with inspirational communication and downgrade critical decision making to mere managment. We have celebrated many “great leaders” who rarely did anything more than read a good speech written by someone else while overlooking “mamagers” who did the actual work of achiving something worth while.

  • #141214

    Denise Petet

    In a lot of ways, I think Leaders inspire. they’re the ‘here’s the goal, how can we reach it’, while managers are the ‘ok, here’s the goal, here’s the rules, i’m going to be keeping an eye on you to make sure you’re not cheating and we’ll keep an eye on your progress’. Managers dont’ seem to inspire as much as regulate.

    Leaders are often more collaborative and seem to have this ‘yes, I’m in charge, but it’ll take all of us working together to get it done’ vs managers that are often ‘i’m in charge, so you make sure to keep me up to date with what you’re doing so I can keep my boss up to date’

    Managers and leaders often coexist in a singular person, but can just as often, be mutually exclusive or one is confused with another. A good leader isn’t often a good manager and a good manager is often not a leader.

  • #141212

    Bill Brantley

    Why do they have to be mutually exclusive? Often Project Managers have to be both leaders and managers to get the project done. Look at Fairholm’s work on “inner leaders” which describes mid-level managers who also have the leadership qualities of vision and building teams.

  • #141210

    Paul Homan

    So my professor created this circular triad of duties, and how everyone does each of these duties no matter what their position: Tasks, Manage, and Lead. I don’t think that management and leadership are mutually exclusive, they definitely need to co-exist for success.

  • #141208

    Paul Homan

    Why do you think that mutual exclusivity exists? I really believe because people are so focused on what they do well that they are reticent to try improve other skills that don’t come as easy to them. I feel the greater problem is that everyone is constantly worried about perception that they only want to be seen as brilliant – they don’t want to stumble, they don’t want to be caught with their pants down.

  • #141206

    Carol Davison

    This training officer agrees that leaders focus on strategy and systemic and manager focus on the details necessary to make that happen. These are normally different skills. Because people soar with their strengths and wallow in their weekness they may not be good at both because these skills may be opposites. Yes you can train them, just like you can force a lefty to write right handed, but it adds little value. People’s strengths are where their accomplishments will be.

  • #141204

    Mark Hammer

    That said, “the vision thing” is not just a product of the individual’s capacity, but also comes from experience and accrued knowledge about the area they need to provide leadership and vision in.

    When one looks at children’s cognitive development through the traditional Piagetian lens, there is a relatively orderly progression such that children are noticeably less capable of abstract thought before adolescence…unless it is in an area where they have considerable knowledge. They may understand bupkes about math or even social relationships, but when it comes to their favourite PS3 games, they can possess remarkable insight, perspective, and even wisdom (though they may not be able to voluntarily express it). Conversely, adults who are in many areas capable of abstract thought and insight can reason in the most mundane and abysmally concrete ways about things they are less familiar with.

    My point is that one should not expect “the vision thing” spontaneously from many of those in positions where leadership skills may be more often called for. It may well take them a while to acquire the sort of knowledge that fosters perspective and abstract or dialectical thinking about issues. To my mind, the rapid advancement of people in the management cadré can often interfere with the acquisition of vision and leadership.

    I recommend taking a glance at Malcolm Gladwell’s nugget “The Talent Myth”, which details the collapse of Enron and Worldcom from an HR/manager-promotions perspective.

    There is much to be said for sticking around as a way of creating leadership.

  • #141202

    Bill Brantley

    @Paul – The mutual exclusivity exists because people insist there is a difference. Why the very question that started this discussion implies that there is a difference. The irony is that the people who argue that leadership is thinking outside of the box are usually the ones to throw people in the “manager” box.

    As Kierkegaard observed – “Once you label me you negate me.” I think a more productive discussion would be are how can people best simultaneously develop the competencies of leadership and management.

  • #141200

    Leaders are driven to change the status quo even if it’s working.

    Managers are driven to protect it even when it’s obviously broken.

    A great executive isn’t driven at all but rather knows when leading vs. managing is appropriate.

  • #141198

    Jack Shaw

    This probably a pretty basic response, but some might find it helpful. Defining Managers and Leaders: Training For All.

  • #141196

    Dennis Snyder

    I think its easy to have vision. Everyone has opinions on how things should be run and what’s the end game. That’s vision. Whether that vision is constructive and actually meshes with the mission of the organization is where visionary leaders get truly tested. Have they met the expectations and requirements of their constituents, even the ones who didn’t vote for them? Having a government “Of the people, by the people and for the people” is the definition of visionary leadership within context. I believe the discussion should really center on the contextual application of leadership.

    I wrote in a different thread about measurement of employee effectiveness, and the same holds true here. When employee evaluations are due I have my employees write their own so I know that they are doing the job I pay them for. I then compare the self evaluation against the job description and can present a clear analysis of performance to the employee. Interestingly, many people add things in their evaluation that have nothing to do with their job. This is what I mean by the contextual relationship between the application of visionary leadership and when it diverges from or supports the mission and the expectations of the constituents.

    You can also have too much leadership. By that I mean intrusiveness. Don’t shove it down our throats. Even good stuff tastes bad when forced on us in massive quantities. For example, have beneficial social programs but don’t turn us into a bankrupt welfare state. Have a vision, keep it in context, and apply only the amount necessary to ensure all groups are satisfied, no matter how divergent.

    For all the leaders of the world in whatever capacity, I challenge you to have vision in context with the people who hired you as well as those who didn’t. Refine your personal vision and agenda and temper it against the needs of the people and their expectations of how much leadership they really want. Check back regularly with cold self-assessment to ensure the good job you think you are doing is actually good.

  • #141194

    Robert Eckhardt

    This has been the issue where I work. We have quite a few leaders but no managers. This has resulted in a shocking amount of failure.

  • #141192

    Paul Homan

    I don’t think you are alone.

  • #141190

    Ernest Sanchez

    Lead people, manage things

  • #141188

    Robert Eckhardt

    I like to hope I am.

  • #141186

    Bill Brantley

    The problem with this question is that it is based on management theories from a century ago. The workplace has greatly changed and so has the worker. Even factory line workers are being rewarded for thinking as well as the manual labor (the Toyota Production System). Instead of determining who is a leader and who is manager based on narrowly-defined characteristics, we should look at how to empower workers so that can be leaders, managers, or team members when the occasion calls for it.

    We need people to think and work strategically. Almost all government workers are excellent workers and do a great job. But the problem is that they tend to work well in their narrowly-defined area of focus and the efforts are often not coordinated across the organization. It is not always true that the sum of high-performing units means that the organization as a whole is working well. Both leaders and managers are needed to align the work around the vision so that mission of the agency is more effectively realized.

  • #141184


    @ William, I am an MBTI practitioner and agree with your assessment. Well said.

  • #358614


    I never understood the difference, thank you!

  • #358615

    Ben Tornton

    For every average statistical person, the problem is to understand the difference between an Opinion Leader or a leader in a company. I remember I ordered an essay on Leadership and Management here and there it will be apparent what the difference is and why sometimes it is not there. The fact is that Often a Leader is a leader, and to become a leader, you need to be a good manager and understand management.

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