The Difference Between Leadership and Management: Roles, Responsibilities, and How to Cycle Between the Two

The difference between leadership and management can be blurry. Effectively guide and motivate your team in today’s workplace with these key distinctions.

It’s a classic business quandary: what separates a manager from a leader? Is every manager a leader? Where do the two overlap? Keep reading to find out!

While it’s been played out many times, the distinction is an important one worth examining closely – especially if you’re in a position of power within your organization.

We all have an idea of what a leader should be. Our minds may jump to iconic examples across history like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, or Joan of Arc. People who ignite sweeping change, make bold statements, and aren’t afraid to put themselves on the line

Similarly, we can probably think of plenty of examples of what a leader shouldn’t be or when leadership goes wrong — someone who is controlling, only after their own goals, or lacks empathy and self-awareness, for starters.

We also have our conceptions of what a manager should be – someone who is organized, task-oriented, and focused on the day-to-day business of getting things done. Though, admittedly, the popular-culture examples out there tend to be less inspiring! Think: The Office’s Michael Scott or Office Space’s Bill Lumbergh.

In this post, we’re here to help you:

  1. Sort out the underlying differences between the two
  2. Define the unique qualities and duties of a leader and a manager
  3. Learn how the two can effectively work together to tackle problems and achieve goals 

From there, we’ll look at how you can put this information into practice so that you can effectively guide and motivate your team in today’s workplace with these key distinctions. 

 

Leadership vs. Management

As the American naval admiral and pioneering computer scientist Grace Hopper famously said, 

“You manage things; you lead people.” 

And if we want to put things simply, this cuts to the core difference between leadership and management. 

While management is rooted in the processes and practicalities of meeting company objectives, goals, and targets, leadership is concerned with the bigger picture, forward-looking aspects of an organization. Those intangible qualities like inspiration and vision are harder to quantify and are what motivate people to keep working hard and striving towards a shared goal.

If you imagine that your organization is a sailboat, then managers are the crew members constantly adjusting the rigging to ensure that everything moves smoothly ahead. Meanwhile, the leader is the captain with their eyes on the horizon and compass in hand, keeping the whole voyage sailing in the right direction. 

The two roles can also be defined through the lens of change management, an essential aspect of any organization. In that case:

Leadership describes the tools people use to create a new future. Leaders guide people from the current state to a new idea or change state. They, quite simply, focus on ‘change’ activities.

Management then describes the tools people use to ensure that the current process or structure delivers expected products. Managers focus on execution or ‘compliance’ activities.

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Source | Grace Hopper was a naval officer and early leader in computer programming.

 

Managers have designated positions, leaders can be found everywhere

Another key point to note about leadership and management is that managers have an official role within an organization. The role of a manager is multi-faceted and requires a person to juggle many duties and tasks, from budgeting and organizing team members to analyzing and communicating performance results. 

Leaders, on the other hand, can be found at any level of the company, not just at the top. 

Salespeople at the bottom of the hierarchy can be inspiring leaders in their own right, encouraging their team members to do better through their words or actions. And while good managers act as leaders, not all are. 

In short, not all managers are leaders and not all leaders are managers, but both are essential to the success of an organization. The trick is finding the right meshing of the two, whether in one person or between multiple.

Gallup illustrates just how essential each role is to an organization’s success. The company found that managers who are directly supervised by highly engaged leadership teams are 39% more likely to be engaged than managers who are supervised by actively disengaged leadership teams. 

What’s more, they found that employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged managers.

This is important because we know that engaged teams drive results, with one study showing that highly engaged business teams increase profitability by 21%.

Now that we have a high-level understanding of a manager vs a leader, let’s unpack the characteristics and responsibilities that define each.

 

Qualities and responsibilities of a leader

If we follow our sailing analogy from earlier, then the captain, as the leader of the ship and crew, is responsible for charting the best course to reach the desired destination. Come hell or high water, as the saying goes, they must make quick decisions and keep morale high, even, and especially when, things get blown off course. 

Riding the seas of change and setting an inspiring example in the process is the job description.

Essentially, effective leaders understand how to rally people around a vision. They generate new ideas and win people over to them by:

  1. Taking a stand and embracing change
  2. Sharing and communicating their vision
  3. Mobilizing relationships and engaging their team 

 

Leadership responsibilities

Being a leader comes with an array of responsibilities, including:

  • Setting organizational goals
  • Clearly communicating and guiding team members to meet those goals
  • Creating a timeline and delegating tasks
  • Encouraging and motivating team members 
  • Cultivating an inspiring team culture that matches the company vision and values
  • Training and guiding team members to reach their full potential
  • Overseeing and reporting on team performance 
  • Managing change and expectations of those above and below them
  • Providing constructive feedback 
  • Finding solutions to high-level organizational issues
  • Vetting and introducing new ideas as needed 

With such critical duties falling under a leader’s purview, understanding their role begs the question: what makes a good leader? What traits are essential to excel in a leadership role?

First, we should establish that leadership and management do not represent people. They represent skill sets deployed towards either a change or compliance result. And if something is a skill set, then that’s great news because it means that it can be developed, as long as the right mindset is adopted.  

When it comes to sales management and leadership, the most effective way to shift your mindset in the long term is by dedicating yourself to training that specializes in behavioral change.

 

Qualities of effective leaders

Here are some hallmarks of great leaders:

  • Superb communication skills
  • Self-awareness and emotional intelligence
  • Empathy
  • Courage, especially when making tough decisions
  • Strategic and strong critical thinking skills
  • Agility and flexibility, ready to adapt to change
  • Enthusiastic about continuous learning and improvement

To hone these traits, it’s important for a leader to understand their leadership style — their unique method and way of directing people — and consider if it is serving them well. While definitions for leadership styles abound, every leader will eventually develop their own style with its own unique mix of elements. Let’s go over a few of the most common styles.

 

Leadership styles

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1. Directive leadership

The directive leadership style demands immediate compliance. Its commanding and controlling approach is most effective in a crisis when immediate results are needed. 

It’s not uncommon for directive leaders to use threats as a way to force desired behavior. However, this is unlikely to be effective in the long-term for obvious reasons!

A directive leader will say, “Do as I tell you.”

2. Visionary leadership

Visionary or transformational leaders, as they are also commonly called, have a clear idea of what the future should look like. They bring their vision to life by:

  1. Setting concrete goals 
  2. Mobilizing their team towards that vision 

Visionary leadership is overwhelmingly positive and most effective when direction is required. Leaders who adhere to this style are empathetic, big-picture thinkers who communicate well.

A visionary leader will say, “Come with me.”

3. Connected leadership

Connected leadership favors a people-first approach that focuses on harmony and shies away from confrontation. Connected leaders are good at forming bonds and communicating feedback which: 

  • Boosts morale
  • Builds emotional bonds
  • Gives team members a sense of belonging

However, the connected leader’s relentlessly supportive approach can prove detrimental to less driven team members, who would benefit from a style that applies more pressure.

A connected leader will say, “People come first.”

4. Democratic leadership

Democratic leadership takes an open, communicative approach that, like connected leadership, creates an open environment and fosters high morale. Democratic leaders empower their team and create buy-in by working collaboratively to make decisions. 

However, this collective type of decision-making can be inefficient. This style tends to work best with team members who are more experienced.

A democratic leader will say, “What do you propose?”

5. Pacesetting leadership

Pacesetting leaders set high standards and lead by example. They focus on goals and the speed at which they are achieved.

Pacesetting leadership is a style that garners quick results in a mature team. However, it risks overwhelming less experienced team members who might be tempted to sacrifice the quality of their work to meet a deadline.

A pacesetting leader will say, “Do as I do now.”

6. Coaching leadership

Coaching leaders are committed to developing people for the future. They are nurturers – adept at mentoring and bringing out the best in people. 

A coaching leadership style is especially beneficial to less experienced team members but does require time and patience. If you’re looking for immediate results, then a different style of leadership may be more effective. 

A coaching leader says things like, “What are the options? Which one will work for you?”

Each and every team is different, and the effects of leadership styles on team motivation will be different depending on the requirements and preferences of each team. Leadership agility – having the ability to switch between styles depending on the situation – is a great skill to master.

With that said, one style stands out as being particularly effective: visionary leadership, also known as transformational leadership. In fact, one study found that 72% of managers use a transformational leadership style. 

Let’s take a closer look at this style.

 

Why transformational leadership is particularly effective

Transformational leadership improves team motivation by blurring the boundaries between employee and business. Rooted in the idea of a shared vision, it creates an environment that employees feel they are truly a part of; they see the bigger picture, and they’re motivated to do their best to help the business achieve its goals. 

Gartner notes that transformational leadership increases staff motivation, performance, and morale, and studies have found that transformational leadership directly boosts employee motivation

With leadership clearly defined, we can now examine the qualities and responsibilities of a manager and how they differ from those of a leader.

 

Qualities and responsibilities of a manager

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Just as crew members on a boat need to balance a range of tasks, from mopping down the deck to trimming the sails, similarly, a good manager has to skillfully take on a wide range of duties. All of these duties boil down to one overarching mission: helping people implement accepted ideas and practices to secure results.

 

Management responsibilities

Management responsibilities can include:

  • Hiring the right people
  • Training and developing the team
  • Setting personal and team objectives
  • Merchandising and pricing products
  • Building productive processes
  • Managing sales pipelines
  • Coordinating operations
  • Formulating policies and strategies
  • Implementing techniques
  • Controlling and evaluating results
  • Offering constructive feedback and praise

That may seem like a lot to take in, but it can be simplified to four main areas:

  1. Planning
  2. People
  3. Strategy
  4. Reporting

An effective manager controls these four areas through thorough preparation and communication. They share the details of an implementation plan or process design, and each goal, objective, and action item is clearly explained to employees. Finally, they utilize project management tools for clarity on exactly who will do what by when.

Another way to think of it is that managers are more focused on how and when to execute the what and why defined by leaders in the organization.

 

Qualities of a manager

All great managers share a few principal traits:

  • Strategic thinkers
  • Analytical
  • Organized
  • Instructive and coaching-minded
  • Delegative
  • Diplomatic
  • Assertive
  • Strong communicator
  • Caring and good with people

Learn more about the skills needed to be a great manager

Just like with leaders, it’s important for managers to also understand their own management style and the management styles available to them. Instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach, great managers are able to use different styles to face the challenges of the moment.

 

Where leadership and management meet — the dance

While it can be easy to declare allegiance to one label or the other, in actuality, the relationship between leadership and management is a delicate dance. The trick is to seamlessly shift between one and the other and recognize when the right set of skills should be deployed.

 In most processes, an underlying cycle of leadership and management is at play. 

  • In leadership mode, a new idea is introduced. The idea is vetted to make sure it fits the organization’s vision and mission and aligns with other goals. 
  • After much communication and strategy, the change is adopted. Leadership skills can then take a back seat as management comes forward
  • The newly adopted process is implemented and management helps ensure that people know exactly what is expected of them to produce a quality product or process. Afterwards, training occurs, results are tracked, and firm guidance lets people know when they stray from the process. 
  • Then, to improve the process, a new idea emerges. Leadership skills again take the wheel. 

In most cases, the driver is the same person for both processes, although as we mentioned earlier, this isn’t always the case.

Exploring how you behave when in leadership mode or management mode can also shed light on the skills or traits you need to develop for all the situations that are bound to arise. It’s a set of dance steps, and it benefits you to learn and practice until you can dance to almost any music.

 

How do you cultivate leadership and management skills for the changing world of work?

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Once you understand what’s called of you in leadership and management roles, the next step is ensuring you have the right skills to help you meet the unique leadership and management challenges of today

21st-century leadership is different from anything that managers have been faced with before. Even prior to the pandemic, Gartner Analyst Mark P McDonald noted that 21st-century leaders must be artists; they must have an ability to adapt rapidly in a world of work where a talent to ‘relate, create, and instigate change’ defined overall success. 

Based on this observation, 21st-century leadership is rooted in the ability to:

  • Relate: Leaders need to make a shift from production-based management to people-centric management, relating with teams to better drive performance. 
  • Create: Leaders need to create new ways of working and introduce new processes that redefine standards and generate strategies that work today.
  • Instigate change: Leaders need to be at the forefront of change, actively introducing and using new processes and motivating teams to accept change.

After doing a skills gap analysis on yourself and your team, you’ll be able to pinpoint exactly where you have opportunities for improvement.

Maybe you’re great at creating long-term strategies and organizational plans, but you struggle with inspiring your employees to get on board. Or perhaps you’re great at energizing your team around company goals but need to improve your ability to execute the more detail-oriented tasks of managing sales pipelines and reporting results

Once you know what you need to improve, you can seek out help, whether that be through mentorship from a superior, or investing in specialized courses that can help you sharpen your skills and transform your behavior.

At Krauthammer, we specialize in long-lasting behavior change through our six-step Krauthammer methodology that emphasizes “show how” versus “know how.” We believe that the best way to improve your skills is by first adopting the right mindset and then applying learned knowledge through practice.

 

Conclusion

Leadership and management are inextricably linked. While leadership is the broader practice of defining a vision and direction and then inspiring, influencing, and convincing people to embrace it, management is more concerned with the practical matters of making the vision a reality. 

Both are crucial to the success of a company, and anyone in a position of power should ideally be able to transition seamlessly between both skillsets when the moment calls for it.

As the post-pandemic world continues to push the boundaries of work, new managers and leaders should take stock of their unique leadership and management styles as well as where their skills are lacking, making an effort to level up where needed. At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to management and leadership, but effective leaders find their own approach that respects the power and purpose of both.

 

Future-proofing your management style

These new leadership and management challenges may be frustrating to handle all at once. 

But they also provide a unique opportunity for you to adapt your leadership approach now to increase the chances of success tomorrow. 

We may be living through a highly challenging decade. But at Krauthammer, we strongly believe that leaders can learn from it, grow from it, and use it as a driving force behind their excellence.

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