3 Differences between Leadership and Management

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leadership vs management
In today’s world, “leadership” and “management” are too often used interchangeably. Yet, it is easy to imagine certain people who seem great at what we might describe as managing– coordination and making specific operational decisions– and others better at leading– inspiring others and setting a vision for an organization. Think, perhaps, of Tim Cook, the current CEO of Apple with his command of supply chain knowledge versus his predecessor, Steve Jobs. Both of them likely have attributes of great leadership as well as outstanding management. Strong management can be vital to achieving the goals of any endeavor or organization. However, without strong leadership, even robust management is doomed to ultimately fail. Leadership is essential to any undertaking and the reasons why are explained in this post. Aspire to be a leader and to learn the skills it takes to differentiate you from the act of simply managing a process.

Leadership vs. Management: A Definition

Management is a well-established term within the halls of business schools and the handbooks of corporate conglomerates. According to the Business Directory, management refers to “The organization and coordination of the activities of a business in order to achieve defined objectives.” The conventional definition of management often invokes the mindset that processes are static, people are interchangeable and are employed to perform a specific task, and that decisions should be made considering the bottom line as the most important factor. However, the premises that anchored the term within the business world are becoming unhinged and everyone from the bottom to the top levels of business is recognizing that “management” alone will not perpetuate success. Rather, something more is required to ensure long-term achievement and growth. That something is leadership.

Leadership represents a concept much harder to both define and enact. Forbes Magazine contributor and New York Times bestselling author Kevin Kruse offered this definition of leadership: “Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” There are perhaps as many quotable definitions of leadership as there are prominent business leaders in the world. However, Kruse’s definition touches on a few key elements of leadership that are sometimes absent in other definitions. Creating an environment where leadership can take place requires a few basic components:

  • A leader
  • A follower or group of followers
  • Some type of goal, vision or direction

Leadership comprises the actions and efforts that a leader makes in order to achieve the goal through the empowerment of his or her followers. Goals and followers can vary in scope, shape, and type. However, elements of effective leadership can emerge and be meaningful whether the application is a little league team or a multimillion-dollar business venture.

A core difference between management and leadership is authority structure. ChangingMinds.org makes a significant distinction between the two by defining managers as people who have subordinates. Being a leader, according to their definitions, does not necessitate having subordinates. In fact, followers (though sometimes because leaders are people with authority and subordinates) are significantly different than subordinates because they choose to follow a leader as opposed to a manager’s subordinates who exist in a transactional relationship and are compelled by an organization’s rules and structure to obey managers.

Skills that Differentiate Leadership vs. Management

So what makes a strong leader? And how can those skills be applied to management positions? The following are three critical skills that will allow anyone to act as a leader amongst those they work with. They are also skills that will benefit anyone as a management role and help them support their subordinates like a leader rather than simply as a manager.

  • Empathy:
    In order for a leader to build trust amongst their followers or team, they must be willing to show empathy. Leaders must be able to build relationships with their followers and empathy is a huge contributor to that process.
  • Open Communication:
    Forbes contributor Liz Ryan discussed how communication is a crucial element of leadership: “Speak up! That’s what leaders do.” Leaders need to be willing to communicate about anything and everything when it is necessary to support their team or followers. They should be able to share criticism in constructive ways. They must be willing to admit their mistakes. They need to be able to ask for help or for more effort. And they must be willing to say the hard things in a helpful and controlled way in order to get the correct message across. Leaders must be skilled communicators.

Motivation and Encouragement:
Managers can use fear and obligation to cause their subordinates to follow their instructions or obey. Leaders operate completely different and must motivate their followers to contribute to the mission through encouragement. A leader must be adept at convincing a follower or group that their mission or idea is worth pursuing and must effectively share their vision and passion so that everyone else is willing to work toward making it a reality.

Management may be an attainable position, but leadership is an art and can be applied in any situation by anyone whether or not they have been appointed to a management role. Management is a necessary part of a business but those who develop their leadership skills will be infinitely more versatile and valuable to any endeavor.

Learn More

A Rutgers Masters of Business Administration online prepares you with the professional expertise to deliver results, positively impact outcomes in today’s increasingly complex global business landscape and further define yourself as a leader in the business world.

This article was created thanks to the insights of Dr. Chester Spell, Professor of Management at Rutgers University

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