Six key differences between leadership and management

Would you class your line manager as a leader or a manager? What constitutes a leader versus a manager?

It’s true that there are differing leadership styles. It is not true, however, that a leader is born as such – it is their chosen behaviour rather than right, an arm band, or a badge – that makes them a leader.

It’s also true that there will be times when a leader needs to be a blend of the two by managing as well as leading, but the majority of the time they will display predominant leadership behaviours. It’s also common for people to confuse things because of job titles. Let’s be clear, all managers should show leadership qualities to be effective. So managers and directors should all be leaders but it’s possible to have people in these positions that are not leaders and therefore are not as effective as they should be.

We set out six key differences below to help you to spot the true leaders in your organisation. (Here we use the term ‘Leader’ to mean somebody who is a manager or director in title but is able to lead a team effectively, and ‘Manager’ to mean somebody who is a manager or director in title but doesn’t think about how their chosen actions affect those who report to them.)

Six differentiators that set leaders apart from managers

  • Leaders set the vision, mission and values, managers realise them
    Leaders live and breathe the values of the organisation and are totally on-board with the importance of setting individual’s objectives and team KPI’s in line with the overall vision and mission. They realise that with everyone motivated and striving for the same goals, the organisation is more likely to succeed. They are able to see the bigger picture and with their eyes on the horizon, they are well placed to ensure their productivity and customer loyalty in the future. Managers acknowledge and buy into the organisational values and goals, but don’t necessarily comprehend the need to align their people’s objectives with these. They are not as forward-thinking as leaders being much more focused internally. They are pre-occupied with immediate deadlines, targets and tasks in hand and prefer to leave the future-proofing of the organisation to others.
  • Leaders embrace changes, managers welcome stability
    Leaders are proactive and display ‘want to’ behaviours. They embrace the opportunities for useful productive change, as this is essential for the future if their organisation is to remain competitive and successful. Managers are more likely to follow the leaders, be reactive and show ‘have to’ behaviours. They may well resist change preferring order and stability.
  • Leaders offer guidance and support, managers drive
    Leaders are keen to develop and coach their team members recognising the benefits to be gained for their organisation, team and individual line reports by encouraging personal growth and engagement. Managers drive their people to deliver and are happy for them to attend training courses, but do not really invest their own time in coaching or mentoring
  • Leaders inspire, managers radiate fear
    Leaders recognise the power of enthusiasm, inspiration and communication and use these infectious behaviours to stimulate wellbeing and passion in their workforce. They lead by influence and example and can depend on the goodwill of their colleagues. If they need to use harder tactics, these are seen as unusual and people understand there’s a problem. Managers, on the other hand, often use fear tactics because they don’t have the skills to use other tactics, and rely on their position and authority to command action and attention. This is seen as weak and leads to poor productivity, workplace issues and the loss of good staff. When their back is turned, employees stop working.
  • Leaders focus on people, managers on tasks
    Leaders spend their time focusing on the strengths of their people and forging close relationships. They are happy to show ‘how it is done’ and are comfortable with delegating responsibilities. As a result, they engender trust from their people. Managers place more emphasis on individual’s weaknesses than strengths and they already ‘know how it was done’. They often struggle to manage their time, as they are reluctant to delegate for fear of losing control. Their line reports may well regard them as authoritative rather than trusting them.
  • Leaders encourage succession planning, managers seek security
    True leaders understand the importance of succession planning and are comfortable with being succeeded. They already know what their people are capable of and will show commitment to ensuring that promising managers in the organisation follow in their and their colleagues’ footsteps. Managers depend on recognition for themselves and are fearful of colleagues coming up behind them, viewing them as a threat to their position. They focus on production and measurement rather than on releasing their time, responsibilities and knowledge to others.

The step from management to leadership doesn’t happen overnight, but it is achievable for a passionate manager who is prepared to experience leadership and management training and to be open to reflection and changing their behaviours, where required. It calls for the adoption of a different mindset and the appropriate use of management tools and leadership concepts.

SO, now that you can recognise the leaders in your midst, are you ready to take the next step up from a manager to a leader? It will not only ensure a much more fulfilling career for you, it will bring huge benefits to your team and your organisation.