Managing vs Leading – What’s the Difference?

I wouldn’t be writing this if I hadn’t made a mistake in the presentation slides for one of my latest corporate workshops.

I was hosting a management away day for an international company here in Brunei, when I asked the group to discuss management or leadership, not management vs leadership.

One team member raised his hand and asked “aren’t those two different things?”. And he was 100% right. Management and leadership are often used interchangeably. But they vary wildly.

You can lead without being a manager. And you can manage without being a leader. So what’s the difference? Let’s find out.

The key difference between managing vs leading

The fundamental difference between managing and leading is that one is typically a job title whilst the other is a personal trait.

Managers typically have the role as part of their job title and description. Their role is all about telling people what to do, how to do it and ensuring that it gets done.

Whilst leaders could be anyone from c-suite executives to individual employees who are clear in their vision for the team. Leading is about guiding and inspiring people to want to do the things that need to be done.

There’s a big move towards intentional leadership at the moment and I firmly believe that we’re going to see more of this in the future. Employees are becoming less agreeable to simply following instructions from someone who’s supposed to be their leader (heads up: a job title does not make you a leader!).

You’ll be able to spot a leader by their vision, purpose and clear communication. They’re able to influence, guide and motivate their fellow employees to both believe in and move forward towards key goals.

Famous quotes on managing vs leading

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

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things

Peter Drucker

Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall

Stephen Covey

Your managing vs leading checklist

Once you know the key qualities and traits of a manager vs a leader, it’s easy to spot the difference both in yourself and in your team.

Why does this matter? Well, you need to know when someone is living up to the expectations of their role. And perhaps more importantly than that, you need to be able to tell when someone’s exceeding those expectations to go the extra mile. That’s when you know you’ve got a true star on your team.

The key qualities of a manager

  • They’re task and process-oriented
  • They turn goals into actions
  • They prioritise having control over their team
  • They’re mostly working on the smaller details
  • They spend most of their time supervising employees
  • The decision-making process feels relatively top down, employees are given instructions to follow
  • They’re more reactive than proactive
  • They’re aiming to maximise efficiency and productivity
  • They’re working towards specific pre-determined goals
  • They’re focusing on ensuring employees complete key tasks
  • Their long term impact is based on operational success

The key qualities of a leader

  • They’re vision and people-oriented
  • They turn ideas into goals
  • They’re looking to influence and inspire their team
  • They’re mostly working on the bigger picture
  • They’re more focused on guiding and motivating employees
  • The decision-making process feels collaborative, employees are included in key moments
  • They’re more proactive than reactive
  • They’re aiming to maximise innovation and initiative
  • They’re working to design new goals, with a more holistic vision and outlook
  • They’re focusing on motivating employees to want to buy in to the overarching vision for the organisation
  • Their long term impact is based on the organisation’s vision

Do you see the difference? Managers are focused on getting the work done on the ground. Whilst leaders are focused on creating the vision that work is trying to achieve.

💬 Ask the executive coach…

I’m a manager but I want to be more of a leader. Where do I begin?

Hi manager! It’s great to hear that you want to bring more leadership into your role. Start by looking through the table above to spot some of the key differences of managing vs leading. And then look at where you can have the greatest possible impact.

These first steps might help you get going:

  1. Communicate your vision to your team. Start shifting your focus from simply communicating tasks and actions, and connect the daily activities of your team with the wider vision for the organisation. Help them see the impact their work is having on the organisation’s progress.
  2. Lead by example. Demonstrate the actions and qualities you expect to see in your team members, rather than simply expecting them to do as you say. You want to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. A great example of this is prioritising work-life balance. If that’s a focus, stick to it. Take holidays yourself, never book meetings outside work hours and keep that laptop firmly closed on weekends!
  3. Facilitate progress. Show your employees that you’re there for them in more than just a directional capacity. Help them feel inspired and empowered as they move towards their goals. This might mean removing blockers, supporting their professional development or even creating space for employee learning.

Good luck!

Managing vs leading – which is more important?

It’s important to be clear here: both managers and leaders are needed. One is not more important than the other.

In some situations, a leader may be the more appropriate requirement. And in others, a manager might be just what you need to get the job done.

You’ll likely find that both managers and leaders are often needed at the same time. The best leaders have management skills too, they’re able to see how their vision can be brought to life. They need to be practical as well as aspirational.

Whilst the best managers are also able to lead their teams. They’re able to inspire action, motivate their team to go the extra mile and encourage them to think autonomously, designing original responses to complex problems.

In short, the best managers also lead. And the best leaders also manage.

Wondering how to strengthen your team’s management and leadership skills?

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About the author

Lisa is a mother, a business owner, a founder, and an executive leader. She's been through it all and has come out the other side to thrive. Now she's helping you to do the same! Learn how you can find clarity and support through her services for individuals and organisations.