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Leadership Versus Management: Are They That Different?

Leadership and management. Management and leadership. For many, there isn’t much of a difference between these 2 words. In fact, some may go as far as to use them interchangeably.

Although viewing them as one and the same does make some sense, there are several key differences between them you shouldn’t ignore, especially if you’re a 21st-century business professional.

Put an end to the debate on leadership versus management. Keep reading to discover the main differences between them, the unique traits of leaders and managers, and why it’s important to view leadership and management as separate entities.

What Are Leadership and Management?

To begin to understand the differences between leadership and management, we first have to understand their own definitions.

We’ll start with the latter. Put simply, management refers to the running of an organization.

This can be in terms of a specific department or the organization as a whole. In the context of a business, to manage is to ensure that the people and processes put in place are maintaining daily operations.

Leadership isn’t so cleanly defined. Basic definitions of the word will often say something nondescript like “the act of leading.” On top of that, many professionals will likely have come up with their own over the course of their careers.

Generally, leadership in the world of business refers to one’s ability to inspire, influence, and guide others, whether at a micro- or macro-level (i.e. the individual or team/organization).

What Are The Differences Between Leadership and Management?

With working definitions of both leadership and management now in mind, we can start to identify their key differences. We’ve identified 3 key dimensions to help you further differentiate these concepts:

1.    Idea vs. Action

Perhaps the biggest difference between leadership and management is the fact that leadership is an abstract idea while management is a concrete form of action.

Although leadership does involve motivating others to act and making powerful moves to guide an organization, it is at its core a skill and characteristic, a way of doing and being that is unique from one leader to another.

Management hones in on what can be done to get work done. Its meaning builds off of layers of processes, decisive actions that employees can and must take at every level to stick to the status quo.

Leadership is about who you are as a leader. Management is about what you do as a manager.

2.    People-Focus vs. Systems-Focus

A second big difference between leadership and management is that leadership centers more on people and management centers more on systems.

Leaders spend the majority of their time searching for new ways to motivate others. Those in leadership have a vested interest in employees and why they work, as opposed to technical systems and how they’re working.

To do this, leaders must adopt a purposeful leadership style that can empassion and mobilize team members of their organization to achieve a greater vision.

Now, it’s not to say that managers have no consideration for the co-workers they oversee. However, if management is about getting through the workday successfully, managers must place a greater emphasis on systems in order to coordinate teams, meet deadlines, and achieve goals, all of which, when done well, keeps employees content.

Leaders empower people to help systems work. Managers employ systems to help people work.

3.    Future vs. Present

The third and final big difference between leadership and management is that leadership is focused on the future while management is focused on the present.

Leaders are innovators. Their place of business lies in the future, where they look out for exciting growth opportunities. In this way, leaders constantly think about what changes they can make and how such changes will impact their organizations. Aligned with long-term ambitions, leaders succeed in the spaces of what and why.

Managers are maintainers. Their place in business remains constantly in the here-and-now, and they work to ensure that their people and processes are all working according to plan. Operating in the short-term, managers thrive in the spaces of how and when.

What Are The Traits And Tendencies Of Leaders Versus Managers?

Even though we’ve described several differences between leadership and management already, it might be easier to understand them when we list the traits and tendencies of leaders versus managers side by side.

Take a look at the following table to see how these 2 types of professionals contrast:




Leaders focus on a vision and go after it with energy and confidence


Managers focus on the steps to achieve a vision and do so tactically


Leaders provide direction by seeking out and developing new ways of doing business


Managers provide tasks to execute day-to-day operations and stay on track


Leaders make the most of taking risks by doing so when it benefits their organizations


Managers make do with risks at hand and work hard to lessen the consequences


Leaders strive to inspire, motivate, and guide others toward their vision


Managers strive to watch over employees and ensure they complete their assignments


Leaders create future opportunities for change to encourage continuous growth at every level


Managers create systems to provide a sense of structure and maintain stability in the present


Leadership Versus Management: Why Does It Matter?

At this point, it seems pretty clear that there are indeed differences between leadership and management.

But why should we draw attention to these differences?

Even though the differences between leadership and management are somewhat broad and there is considerable overlap between leaders and managers, it’s important to know how they differ for 2 reasons:

  1. So leaders and managers have the chance to clarify and deepen their understanding of their own roles
  2. So leaders and managers can learn how to incorporate aspects of the other and grow professionally

Leadership and management. Management and leadership. They’re not exactly alike, but knowing their differences offers you the same value.

Get The Best Of Both

At The University of Redlands, we strive to teach 21st-century business professionals how to be both leaders and managers. Our Master of Science in Organizational Leadership (MSOL) program blends leadership and management principles so graduates can deliver the best of both to their organizations.

Will you manage to be a leader? Complete our form and we’ll connect you with a Redlands online enrollment advisor.