Leadership vs. Management: Differences and Similarities


By Dr. Sandra L. Torres has often been said that leadership is an art and management a science. If true, this helps to explain why leadership is inherently more flexible and management more structured. While there are differences that distinguish one from the other, there are also similarities that bind them together.

Research provides many examples of how management differs from leadership, but to begin to understand the differences it is important that we first establish a clear definition for each. Perhaps the simplest and most common definition of leadership can be summed up with one short phrase: the ability to influence others. It suggests the capacity for visionary and strategic thinking; the potential for developing and implementing a mission; the courage to challenge processes; and the inclination to set example. Management, however, engages more with the mundane: performing operational tasks such as the supervision of others, overseeing budgets, developing projects, and achieving goals.

Doing the Right Things vs. Doing Things Right

Warren Bennis, a renowned authority on leadership, identified the functions of a manager as one who administers, initiates, maintains, focuses on systems, relies on control, wants immediate results, asks how and when, and has an eye on the status quo. Leaders, on the other hand, are those who innovate, originate, initiate, develop, focus on people, inspire trust, have a long range view, ask what and why, have their eye on the horizon, and challenge the status quo. Bennis is best known for identifying managers as those who do things right, and leaders as those who do the right things.

Many other writers have attempted to describe the characteristics of managers and leaders. Some of the distinctions identified include their focus, longevity, personality, and their high level of proficiency. Whatever characteristics were applied to each, all writers agreed on the importance of both the manager and the leader as pivotal forces in the successful operation of any organization.

Followers vs. Subordinates

By definition, managers have subordinates. For the most part, managers tend to be authoritarian and function with a transactional leadership style, primarily because they have been vested by the organization in positions of authority. Their subordinates work for them and understand that they are generally required to do as they are told. Transactional leadership involves the rewarding of subordinates (with salary, incentives, etc.) for work performed. Managers are also subordinates and are subject to a similar relationship with their superiors.

Leaders do not have subordinates—at least not when they are leading—they have followers. Many organizational leaders may have subordinates, but only because they are also managers. They are at their best when they are leading, however, and have ceded formal authoritarian control.

Because to lead is to have followers, and following is always a voluntary activity, the best leaders have superb persuasive and inspirational skills. This selling style of leadership is referred to as transformational. Simply telling people what to do does not inspire them to become followers.

It is no surprise that leaders with strong personalities find it easier to attract people to their cause; they typically promise transformational benefits as a part of their influence. These benefits enable their followers to believe that they will not just reap extrinsic rewards, but that they will become better people.

To some extent, the most effective leaders also possess a charismatic personality, but that is not a requirement. The quiet personae that give credit to others and accept responsibility are very effective at generating subordinate loyalty.

Leaders vs. Managers

Managers and leaders are involved in different activities. Managers have unidirectional authority and produce order, consistency and achievement. Leaders have multidirectional influence and produce change, movement and innovation. Research, while sometimes contradictory in differentiating between managers and leaders, generally concludes that the most effective leaders possess a strong combination of characteristics of both effective management and inspired leadership as illustrated in the Leadership vs. Management Characteristics Table.

The Leadership vs. Management Characteristics table gives language to the differences between leaders and managers. This is only an illustrative characterization. Keep in mind that there is a gradient spectrum between the ends of this scale along which each role can range widely. Many people lead and manage at the same time, therefore may display a combination of behaviors. The biggest difference between managers and leaders is the way they influence and motivate the people who work or follow them, and this sets the tone for most other aspects of what they do.

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Dr. Sandra L. Torres is an author speaker and leadership consultant. Miami based, Dr. Torres has researched leadership practices around the world. More than 20 years of experience in the credit union industry has made her an ardent believer and practitioner of the credit union philosophy “people helping people”. Leadership Si offers bilingual leadership expertise via her writings, training, workshops and speaking engagements. Her specialty is women’s leadership. Get to know her better by visiting:

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