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The Difference Between Leadership and Management

Andrew Langat
October 14, 2021
One executive working on his latop while the other executive is standing and looking at the work
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Leadership and management are often said in the same breath, but the two have a significant difference. Understanding the difference between the two is vital for proper leadership and mentoring. However, in the absence of leadership coaching initiatives such as executive coaching, knowing how to implement the two can be challenging.

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What is Leadership?

There are many definitions of leadership. One of the most cited definitions is attributed to W.C.H Prentice. He defines leadership as accomplishing a goal through the direction of human assistants.

Breaking this further, leadership is all about setting a vision or direction to be followed and implemented willingly.

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What is Management?

Management entails directing, planning, organizing, and controlling team members to achieve the vision set by a leader.

An executive talking about leadership and management

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Example of Leadership and Management

Let's have a hypothetical example of company X, a management consulting firm based in Tampa, Florida. 

Company X’s leader is Mr. Smith, who is in charge of setting the company’s vision.

Smith decides that in the next three years he wants the company to have moved beyond Tampa and into the mid-western states where there is a strong appetite for management consulting.

Smith passes this vision to the implementation team headed by a Manager. The manager will then come with strategies towards realizing the leader's set vision. This will entail coming up with a marketing budget, cold-pitches, etc.

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Why Is It Important To Know the Difference

Without a clear distinction between management and leadership, the organization can set itself up for failure. This is because it is not clear where the buck stops. Several scholars have also argued that where there is a lack of precise differentiation, management tends to be vilified and leadership exalted. This confusion leads to a misguided belief that leadership is the remedy of all organizational problems.

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What Are The Key Differences Between Leadership and Management?

1.   On-Time Frames

Leaders work on long-term goals while managers work to implement the present. A manager is preoccupied that the day-to-day activity of an organization runs smoothly. This entails overseeing activities such as budgeting, staffing, procurement, etc. On the other hand, a leader thinks long-term and how best to win the future.

2.   On Organizational Culture

Organizational culture is a collection of habits or beliefs that defines how team members behave. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, opines that the company leaders need to set the tone. Ultimately, a leader defines the right culture, and managers implement it. A great leader coherently explains company values on what needs to be done right first to managers, who will then implement this across team members of the organization.

3.   On Disruption

Leaders understand that a business is not static and that challenging how things are done is the only sure way of avoiding being outcompeted. Ultimately, it can make the difference between success and failure. Steve Ballmer's dismissive demeanor to the launch of the iPhone perfectly illustrates a poignant example. Conversely, managers like to maintain the status quo because challenging the status quo often means challenging leadership.

4.   On Asking Questions

One distinguishing attribute of outstanding leadership is asking good questions. Such questions often answer the “what” and “Why." For example,

“What is the management doing to realize goal X?”

“Why has there been a delay in releasing quarterly results?”

On the other hand, managers ask questions answering the "how and “when."

"How is the accounting team handling the tax returns?”

“When are you going to submit the proposal?”

5.   On Style

Leadership is often proactive in nature as long-term thinking is required. A great leader should be able to stay ahead of events and make changes accordingly. Conversely, management is often reacting to leadership changes almost at a moment's notice.

6.   On Risk-Taking

Part of leadership is taking risks with the knowledge that it can result in failure or success. Elon musk personifies that taking risks and betting for a future pay-off may offer massive return on investment. On the other hand, management is preoccupied with managing risks, i.e., ensuring that current plans and execution are sustained or optimized.

7.   On employee Relations

One of the primary goals of leadership is to offer inspiration, mentoring, and motivation. Conversely, managers direct by assigning tasks, setting deadlines, and offer training where necessary.

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When There is an Overlap

Whereas there is a clear difference between management and leadership, the two are not mutually exclusive, and often there is an overlap where managers act as leaders and vice versa. This overlap is explained by Peter G. Northouse: Leadership: Theory and Practice, 6th edition.  Here is a quote from pg. 14

“Although there are clear differences between management and leadership, the two constructs overlap. When managers are involved in influencing a group to meet its goals, they are involved in leadership. When leaders are involved in planning, organizing, staffing, and controlling, they are involved in management. Both processes involve influencing a group of individuals toward goal attainment."

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How Highrise can help

Understanding a clear difference between leadership and management is vital. However, this might not always be clear, especially when running a small team or in the absence of training. At Highrise, you will be paired with competent executive coaches who will leave no stone unturned towards ensuring that you understand leadership and management succinctly.

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Andrew Langat
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Andrew Langat is an experienced content specialist in Leadership, Productivity, Education, Fintech, and Research. He is an avid reader and loves swimming as a hobby. He believes that quality content should be actionable and helpful.