Leadership vs. Management: Key Differences You Should Know

We often hear the terms "leaders" and "managers" used interchangeably. However, there are key differences in how each operates.

In this article, we'll dive into what those differences are and how you can leverage each one within an organization.

What’s most interesting is that every leader has likely taken on a managerial role. However, not every manager has been a leader.

This is because someone typically steps into a manager role when there’s a need within your organization. Anyone who can meet those needs will succeed as a manager.

However, a leader requires a different skill set and can emerge naturally at any point in an organization’s growth – in fact, a leader doesn’t need a title that specifies it.

Let’s break down the key differences below.

Vision vs. Execution

As a leader, you are responsible for setting the vision. This means the ability to see beyond where you currently are and imagine a future that goes beyond expectations.

Meanwhile, a manager will focus on executing that vision and figuring out the key processes to get there.

Leaders are able to see the big picture and develop a strategy for how to get there, whereas managers typically break down those goals into smaller, actionable tasks.

People vs. Processes

Another key distinction between leaders and managers is that leaders focus on people while managers focus on processes.

Leaders are there to inspire, motivate, and nurture the people they work with, often regarded as mentors to those they lead. To do so, they invest a lot of time in understanding their employees’ passions and values.

After all, that’s what’s going to ensure the success of the company.

Managers look at the processes that will deliver the desired outcomes based on business objectives. While they do pay attention to the people, that’s often not their main priority.

Leadership vs. Management Skills

Leadership skills are typically more soft skills-based, whereas management skills tend to be more hard or technical skills.

Common leadership skills include decision-making, communication, relationship building, and strategic thinking.

Top management skills include:

  • Planning and budgeting
  • Task allocation
  • Creativity
  • Problem-solving

Leadership vs. Management Characteristics

Both leadership and management involve setting a direction for others to follow.

However, leaders typically have more of a long-term vision while managers focus on the here-and-now.

Leaders also need to be able to build relationships and trust with their team, whereas managers may not need as strong of relationships since they are focused on task execution.

Characteristics of leaders include:

  • Identifying and nurturing talent.
  • Pushing the envelope of what is possible.
  • Taking calculated risks.
  • Championing employees.

On the other hand, some common management characteristics include:

  • Maintaining the status quo.
  • Detecting and addressing inefficiencies.
  • Mitigating risks.
  • Getting the job done.

Leadership vs. Management Examples

Let's say you're a project manager at an advertising agency.

Your daily tasks might involve overseeing client projects, delegating tasks to your team, and ensuring that deadlines are met.

Meanwhile, the agency owner might be focused on bringing in new clients, working on long-term strategy, and building relationships with other businesses.

Both roles have overlap in their responsibilities and skills. However, their priorities differ greatly.

If you think too long-term, you’ll never figure out what it takes today to get there. If you think too short-term, you’ll lack the big picture that tells you what you’re working toward.

There’s often the implication that leadership is better than management. The truth is, every organization needs a good balance of both to thrive.

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