Management vs Leadership

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Management and Leadership notions are commonly used these days. We hear and read them quite often in many different contexts. Moreover, they are used interchangeably. However, whilst they are both a requirement for successful managers, supervisors, bosses and leaders, they are two different things.

As Wikipedia states:

Management  in business and organizations is the function that coordinates the efforts of people to accomplish goals and objectives using available resources efficiently and effectively.

It can generally be described with six factors: forecasting, planning, organizing, commanding, coordinating and controlling. It defines the framework on how to achieve targets with a group of people. It can be paraphrased that management is:

the art of getting things done through people

Leadership is often considered a part of management. For the definition itself, I will refer here once again to Wikipedia:

Leadership has been described as “a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”. For example, some understand a leader simply as somebody whom people follow, or as somebody who guides or directs others, while others define leadership as “motivating and organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal”.

While similarities to management are quite obvious, it is noticeable that the emphasis is on motivation, cause, inspiration and showing the direction.

What’s the difference in practice? A leader is a person who shows which direction a team shall follow and a manager is one who can define an effective way getting there. A leader provides motivation and works hard with a team to accomplish goals, while a manager effectively divides and organizes the work. Stephen Covey used the example of a group of people who are marching with machetes through a jungle to show the difference. A manager can define the most efficient way of cutting through, which in practice can be:

  • shifts of first line marchers,
  • frequency of machete sharpening,
  • cutting techniques,
  • average speed expected,
  • and so on.

A leader defines direction. motivates and:

  • is on the first line, helping in case of difficulties pushing forward,
  • climbs the biggest trees to check if proper direction is maintained,
  • shows people what the most effective way of using the machete is,
  • takes care of people individually.


I do not discredit managers here. Whilst it might sound that their role is heartless, management is as important as leadership. Without proper management, a leader would be unable to successfully push the team to achieve goals. Proper planning, organizing and coordinating are critical for any complex project execution. The same applies for leadership. Without it, people might be treated as resources which would lead to lack of motivation, self improvement and overall decrease of productivity. A team can hardly achieve its goals without sharing the vision on how to do it.

Another distinguishable trait of leadership and management is a need of technical expertise. It is especially visible in IT related projects. While it is very convenient to have a manager with an IT background and general technology understanding, can you imagine a team leader who does not have these traits? To have people following a man he needs to understand their work. A leader has to be able to set one’s own shoulder to the wheel and work with the whole team whenever necessary. As I have mentioned before, a leader has to be able to stand in the first line. He needs to be able to help particular team members and push them forward. Technology skills are also required regarding the vision. Without knowing specific industry and technical issues, it is quite hard to outline an authentic vision and convince your team to believe and follow it. If the vision does not match reality and industry specifics, the team will detect it consciously or unconsciously and will not commit to it.

It is not a rare case that one person is both a leader and a manager. It is very convenient as leadership and management responsibilities are quite tied to each other. Leadership is even often considered as part of management. Having both roles handled by one person eliminates a bunch of problems regarding their cooperation and synchronization. Nevertheless, it also has its disadvantages. What is sometimes forgotten by such a person is that both their management and leadership skills should be taken care of. As stated above, both of them are a crucial part in helping a team to achieve its goals. Poor managerial skills, no matter how motivated the team is and how spectacularly outlined the vision is, may lead to disastrous results. On the other hand, focusing on the process and ignoring a person’s commitment may also cause a lot of harm.

Anyone who is simultaneously a leader and manager should develop themselves in both areas. One very helpful activity is searching for top notch literature, reading it carefully, evaluating, and most importantly, verifying it in real life and implementing it. Other useful activity is regularly identifying the weakest points and improving them (sixth Eat that frog habit). Done on a regular basis it will push you forward and boost your career significantly.

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