Management vs Leadership: The Ultimate Guide

By: | Updated: February 25, 2023

You found our explanation of management vs leadership.

Though many people use the terms management and leadership interchangeably, they are actually two very different concepts. This article seeks to explore the nuances between these two roles.

To learn more about these topics, you can read management books and leadership books, and also do leadership activities or attend leadership training.

This post includes:

  • leadership and management definitions
  • differences between management and leadership
  • Importance of understanding the difference between management and leadership
  • leadership vs management examples
  • management skills vs leadership skills
  • management vs leadership quotes

Here is everything you need to know.

Leadership and management definitions

Many folks believe that leaders and managers are one in the same. While similar, these two words describe two separate concepts. The Merriam dictionary defines the terms as follows:

Lead: “to guide on a way especially by going in advance.”

Manage: “to handle or direct with a degree of skill.”

Again, the descriptions share much in common. However, a deep analysis of these explanations reveals a divide. The most telling words in each definition are the verbs, “to guide,” and “to handle.” These comments imply that leaders guide or coach employees, while managers handle or oversee staff. The latter keeps employees in line, while the former teaches. Also, while a manager’s main qualifications are a level of skill and technical prowess, the primary way leaders prove themselves to be capable is by setting an example and performing the same tasks expected of followers.

While these are the most simple meanings behind the words leadership and management, there are many variations on the terms.

For instance, Indeed describes management as, “the coordination and administration of tasks to achieve a goal….Management can also refer to the seniority structure of staff members within an organization.”

Meanwhile, one of the most stirring definitions of leadership comes from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business:

“Successful leadership means taking risks, being fully engaged in the challenges of one’s organization, and being prepared to give up everything for one’s values and principles.”

There are at least as many definitions of the terms as there are business publications. Experts and thought leaders conceive of the concept in various ways. It is also worth noting that many professionals, especially those in positions of power, have personal definitions of leadership.

Despite subtle distinctions, a common thread tends to run through the definitions of management and leadership. Managers administer and enforce guidelines and standards of behavior. Meanwhile, leaders have a more active hand in shaping the culture and developing employees on an individual and group level.

Differences between management and leadership

When asked the difference between leadership and management, some professionals may answer that the distinction is rank. That leadership refers to the executives calling the shots for the whole company, while management means the middle managers taking orders and dispensing instructions.

However, the true difference between management and leadership is more a matter of attitude than position. Title or no title, anyone can be a leader. Also, a title does not automatically create a leader.

Common perception says that managers seek to supervise and oversee, while leaders take a more hands on approach and coach employees. Leaders seek to inspire staff and help team members grow, while managers’ main goal is to keep employees in line.

When discussing the differences between the two concepts, this level of involvement is the most common argument. According to the Harvard Business Review, there are two other key differences between management and leadership. The first is that managers count value, while leaders create value. Managers are measurers, while leaders are catalysts. The manager reports whether or not an employee meets expectations, while leaders brainstorm and share ways team members can achieve and exceed objectives. The second difference is circles of power vs circles of influence. Managers have sway over direct reports but very little say with colleagues who are not required to obey. On the other hand, leaders impact other areas of the organization. Peers listen to these leaders’ ideas, emulate their behavior, and actively seek them out for advice.

Here are more contrasts between the concepts:

Importance of understanding the difference between management and leadership

Understanding the difference between management and leadership is important because this mindset can affect leadership strategy, relationships with subordinates, and the long term health of the organization.

Without realizing the differences between these two terms, supervisors may wonder why teams do not act as expected or achieve prescribed results. Worse still, these supervisors may believe that they are already doing everything within their own power, and blame the team for the failure as a result. Realizing that management and leadership are two separate concepts opens the mind up to different approaches and possible courses of correction. This understanding helps people in positions of power take ownership and accountability over their parts in the process.

It is also worth noting that management often gets a bad reputation when compared to leadership. Many professionals view management as a sort of bare minimum or “leadership lite.” Managers often get portrayed as pawns, control-freaks, or as lacking in creativity. However, as this Forbes article points out, management and leadership are both essential to organizations. The author of this article argues that professionals should manage things and lead people. Managers do need systematic thinking in order to oversee the processes that keep the business running smoothly. Yet, there is also an argument for occasionally managing instead of leading people. In an ideal work world, supervisors would be able to nurture employees towards the best solution in every situation.

The workplace often runs on deadlines, and a manager may need to pull rank and make a final decision in a critical moment. Afterwards, the manager can slip back into leader mode and help the employees understand the logic behind the call. For the sake of efficiency or survival, the manager may need to command compliance before presenting the reasoning. However, one can also argue that if supervisors practice leadership effectively, then team members are more likely to trust the judgment and less likely to resist ideas that run contrary to instinct.

Leadership vs management examples

Here are a few scenarios we made up to help illustrate the difference between leadership and management.

1. Scenario: It is time for annual performance reviews at Grease Inc.

Manager: Sandy uses the company approved template or rubric to assess employees, and rates staff on a numerical scale. She may add a few comments in the additional notes section, or select from the pre-printed list of possible compliments. On each evaluation, Sandy rates one or two random areas with a mid-range number, because her bosses have stressed that employees should never feel that their performance or review was perfect, lest they become lazy.

Leader: Danny engages in a dialogue with employees during one-to-one meetings. He does a deep dive into the performance, pointing out strengths and wins as well as lessons and areas for improvements. Instead of monologuing and giving team members the chance for rebuttal or reply at the end of the assessment, Danny asks his employees to speak first and describe their own performance, and encourages his staff to interject thoughts throughout the meeting. The feedback is thoughtful and specific to the employee. Danny knows that he can urge his employees to strive to be better without implying that any area was subpar.

2. Scenario: The company Ex-Files Limited is about to undergo a major operational restructuring. Instead of investigating all manners of supernatural happenings, the firm will focus exclusively on alien activity.

Manager: Mulder makes the big announcement at the end of a routine team meeting. When grumblings start among the staff, Mulder tells employees that these are the new rules and they will have to get used to them. When employees ask questions, he answers with some form of “this is what the higher ups have decided, so you have to do what they say.”

Leader: Scully makes a series of announcements about the coming shifts. She assures employees that there will be multiple opportunities to talk about these changes. Scully listens to and validates staff’s uneasiness while promising that the team will navigate the transition together. Scully welcomes feedback, questions, and concerns, and addresses them, either by taking the ideas to leadership or implementing on departmental level, or explaining the rationale behind the company’s choice so that employees have better understanding of the need for the change.

3. Scenario: Hogwarts International has a record-breaking quarter, in part because of the efforts of Team Gryffindor. President Albus Dumbledore thanks the head of the team during a celebratory lunch meeting among the higher ups.

Manager: Harry says “thank you sir,” and tells his team when he returns back to the common space.

Leader: Hermione insists that the win was a team effort and quickly highlights the specific contributions and achievements of key team members, giving her teammates well-earned visibility for the hard work.

4. Scenario: Two members of the external sales division of The Avengers, a private security company, are in a rut after losing a few key battles to lure leads away from their main competitors, The Justice League.

Manager: Nick Fury tells the employees that their performance is subpar and warns of the consequences if the record does not improve. This manager employs a three strikes system, and declares that even that is generous– some companies let you go after your first mistake, you know.

Leader: Captain America has a close enough relationship with these team members that he knows whether a force outside the office may be affecting the deals, or at least feels comfortable enough to ask questions about the possible cause of the problem. He opens the conversation by assuring the employees that he knows they do good work, and he wants to help because they are a team and he is concerned. Cap listens to the team members’ side of the story, offers suggestions, and comes up with a training regimen and plan of attack together with these teammates.

5. Scenario: The Middle Earth Logistics Company is facing staffing challenges. The initially large team has been spread around the territory, and a key delivery is taking longer than expected. The staff is overworked and exhausted, and there have been many unexpected obstacles.

Manager: Gandalf DeGray says the team needs to step up their game and persevere in the face of this unfortunate evil. He knows the crew is weary, but the situation is what it is and the staff simply needs to endure until the operation is complete. He emphasizes that everyone can rest when the job is complete.

Leader: Frodo Baggins asks how he can help and support his team, and vows to make the journey alongside them. He takes a stretch of the mission, adding extra manpower to the team. To ease the burden, he enlists the help of allies in other departments to lend a hand. Though he has limited power, he finds ways to work magic by figuring out solutions that take some of the stress off his employees. Frodo makes sure to thank employees throughout and after the mission.

6. Scenario: The Miami branch of Golden Girls Global is a tiny team that works hard.

Manager: Sophia says good job sometimes, but does not feel the need to praise staff excessively. After all, back when she was in the Sicily office, they did not applaud employees every day, so why start now? She lets her team know when they screwed up, but does not feel the need to give out gold stars during the sunnier times.

Leader: Rose thanks her colleagues often and expresses her gratitude on a regular basis. She is quick to point out in which areas her coworkers excel, and praise specific achievements and positive actions. She also facilitates peer to peer praise and encourages her coworkers to complement each other. Sometimes, she even rewards the team by bringing in cheesecake.

7. Scenario: At toy manufacturing company “Andy’s Toybox,” employees Mr. Potato Head and Slinky Dog respectively ask their bosses Buzz Lightyear and Sheriff Woody for a raise.

Manager: Buzz informs Mr Potato Head that raises are standard and based on the numerical rating tied to the annual evaluation. The company tends not to give pay increases outside of the performance review period. When Mr Potato Head reminds Buzz that last year’s raises were frozen and points to his record-shattering performance, Buzz says he can look into the possibility of a pay bump but makes no promises. After all, the decision is ultimately out of his hands.

Leader: Noting Slinky Dog’s work ethic, Woody already initiated one pay raise in more prosperous times. When Slinky Dog comes to him asking for another increase, Woody hears his employee out. Agreeing with his team members’ logic and justification, Woody advocates for the increase with higher ups. When the executives insist that it is not possible at this time, Woody negotiates a promise for re-evaluation in six months, and in the meantime accommodates Slinky by offering more flexible working arrangements and extra professional development.

8. Scenario: There is trouble at Mystery Inc. Fred accuses his teammate Shaggy of slacking off and always eating when they should be working. Shaggy says Fred is, “like, too harsh man.”

Manager: Daphne tells the men to work it out amongst themselves. She threatens that if the infighting continues, she may revoke both of their privileges to use the company car, the Mystery Machine. If the boys cannot come to a peaceful resolution, then Daphne will make a call and punish the guilty party accordingly.

Leader: Velma sits Fred and Shaggy down, first separately, then together, to resolve the issue. She listens to both sides, and uses the feedback to mediate and steer a constructive discussion. At the end of the conversation, Fred and Shaggy understand that each has a different approach and attitude about work. Shaggy points out that he still gets his work done, and Fred respectfully points out that the snacking distracts other team members. The men compromise and Shaggy agrees to set snack breaks. Velma gives both team members resources for conflict resolution so next time a disagreement arises, perhaps the teammates can try to solve the issue without her assistance. She knows that conflict resolution is not just about keeping peace in the workplace, but also about building trust amongst teammates at work.

Management skills vs leadership skills

Some workers mistakenly believe that the venn diagram between managers and leaders is a circle. In actuality, there are very different skill sets needed between the different roles. A professional can be both a manager and leader at the same time, or can be one without being the other.

Here is a graphic comparing and contrasting the two roles.

For more information, check out this guide to effective team management skills.

Management vs leadership quotes

Many experts have opinions on the distinction between the concepts. Here are some of the most famous thought leaders’ comments on management vs. leadership.

  1. “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker
  2. “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” – Stephen Covey
  3. “You don’t lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault, not leadership.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
  4. “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John C. Maxwell
  5. “The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.” – Warren G. Bennis
  6. “Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.” – Stephen Covey
  7. “The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.” – Warren G. Bennis
  8. “You manage things, you lead people.” – Grace Hopper
  9. “The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.” – Warren G. Bennis
  10. “Managers light a fire under people; leaders light a fire in people.” – Kathy Austin
  11. “Management works in the system; leadership works on the system.” – Stephen Covey
  12. “Leaders drive and effect change, whereas managers protect and maintain the status quo.” – John Kotter
  13. “A leader gets others to want what s/he wants; management is about daily task-by-task oversight.” – D. Marker
  14. “Leadership is not a function but is instead a relationship, whereas management is a function.” – M. Maccoby
  15. “Management and leadership are separate roles but they aren’t necessarily multiple people.” – Dr. Dean McCall
  16. “One doesn’t have to be a manager to be a leader.” – L. Bolman & T. Deal
  17. “Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.” – Steve Jobs
  18. “There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it, or you can inspire it.” – Simon Sinek
  19. “Managers who don’t lead are quite discouraging, but leaders who don’t manage don’t know what’s going on. It’s a phony separation that people are making between the two.” – Henry Mintzberg
  20. “Managers will tell people what to do, whereas leaders will inspire them to do it, and there are a few things that go into the ability to inspire.” – Jeff Weiner
  21. “Leadership is inspiring people. Management is keeping the trains running on time.” – Andy Dunn
  22. “Leadership is working with goals and vision; management is working with objectives.” – Russel Honore
  23. “Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.” – Tom Peters
  24. “A manager says go. A leader says let’s go.” – John Maxwell

For similar sentiments, check out these collections of HR quotes, motivational work quotes, and presidential quotes on leadership.

Final Thoughts

Misconceptions of management and leadership can be the cause of many modern workplace problems. Some professionals in positions of power think that the only requirement for being a leader is being put in charge of other employees. However, one can be a leader without a title, and one can fail to lead even with a coveted rank.

Management tends to be about maintaining day-to-day function, while leadership is more forward-looking and growth-driven. Manager goals tend to revolve around getting employees to follow rules and meet quotas, while leaders inspire by doing and aim to bring out the best in each team member.

While management sometimes gets looked down upon as lesser than leadership, both concepts are important for an organization. Sometimes employees need the straightforward structure, direction, and supervision of management alongside the coaching, motivation, and vision of leadership. Occasionally organizations need an authority figure who can oversee the routine or take charge and make time-sensitive decisions with or without employee buy-in. Not to mention, leaders cannot empower and inspire employees to exceed expectations and reinvent rules if those standards are not clear.

By understanding the nuances between leadership and management, organizational heads can act more effectively and appropriately in different circumstances, improve relationships with employees, achieve more positive and predictable outcomes, and boost overall organizational health.

Next, check out this list of tips for first time managers, this guide to team managing skills, and these characteristics of team building leaders.

For more on leadership, learn about collaborative leadership and servant leadership, and consider attending a top leadership conference.

We also have a guide to team building management at work, a list of the best virtual leadership activities for work and a guide to management by objectives.

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Marketing Coordinator at
Angela has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and worked as a community manager with Yelp to plan events for businesses.


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