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Management or Leadership - What is the difference?


When we discuss what leadership is, we like to be clear on what the differences are between leadership and management. A good way we do this in our workshops is we will put together a big list of actions and behaviours that one person will generally do within an organisation in their role and we ask groups to determine whether they feel each action is more a leadership action or a management action.

What we need to remember is all the actions on the list are important, but we like to ask two questions to help understand the key difference: 

What would happen if we did not manage for a day? It would not take long before everyone would start to see and feel things going a little pear shaped.

What would happen if we did not lead for a day? The reality is we can often not lead for the day and the immediate result of this is not always evident. However, after a few days, weeks or months it becomes very evident.

Therefore we can often look at management as compulsory and leadership as discretionary. Your leadership actions may not be always noticed, but they make a big difference to the organisation culture.

Some key points we like to point out are:

  • Leadership is more about inspiring people with a vision. Management is more about executing a task or process
  • Leadership is about developing people, providing opportunities and growth for the future. Management is about looking after people day to day.
  • Leadership is more tangible.

It is having a quiet word in someone’s ear to see if they are ok, or having an authentic conversations with someone when two people may be experiencing conflict or not collaborating as well as they could be. Management is more tangible. Follow this process, do this report.

  • Leadership is inspiring the individuals and team around you to work towards the goal. Management is executing the process.

Its all about finding a balance

Everyone will notice when you don’t do management, but not everyone will immediately notice when you don’t act with leadership! Which is why it is so important to commit to small actions everyday. There is always pressure to manage but there is often less pressure to be a leader as it is less tangible.

Leadership is often the little things you do, that don’t really get noticed but make a BIG difference to the culture you work in.

The truth is we need both leadership and management, and it’s often the balance of wearing two hats and switching effectively between. All leadership and no management creates an environment of good intentions, good engagement but little structure. All management and no leadership means we have a very robotic and boring environment. The balance is the key.

Management is doing things right – Leadership is doing the right things.

A lot of actions you do in a management role take on a real leadership flavour when you do the right thing – we call this giving it a leadership overlay to our everyday behaviours and actions. This then empowers the people around us – a good example is the process of a Performance Appraisal.

A Manager

As an effective manager you will go through every aspect of the performance appraisal process and follow the company protocol so that the task is completed and the appropriate report can be made regarding its completion.

A Leader

As an effective leader you can add a leadership overlay to this task by some simple actions:

  • Knowing that your actions and conversations with the person you are completing the performance appraisal for is going to have them walk away from the interaction with you knowing they feel good about themselves (remember there should be nothing new come up in a performance appraisal for the person being appraised, don’t leave discussing important issues to here – but that is a topic for another post…)
  • Ask them what you can do to help them, how can you be a better leader for them?
  • Ask them how they are going, what do they need from you as their leader/manager?
  • What are their goals for the next period, how can you help them achieve this?
  • How do they feel about what has been discussed?


Being a good manager is more often than not a lot more natural, instinctive and easier for us all. It’s our natural comfort zone as often we have been given the role because of how effective we are at the tasks involved . Being a good leader is more of a journey of deliberate development. It is adding a human overlay to the process, so you are doing the management process but you are doing it better – you are doing it as a leader.

So my question to you is, what have you done over the last month that has placed a leadership layer over your everyday actions?

This can be in work, at home in your personal life, in a role you have within the community – remember we don’t have to have a leadership title to take on leadership behaviours.

If you cannot think of anything I challenge you to decide what leadership layers you are going to implement over the next four weeks in your role with your organisation, at home or in a role you hold within your community.