Leadership vs. Management: 3 Key Differences to Know

By Kristina Perunicic

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

Leadership vs. management, what is the difference? There’s no question that leadership and management go hand in hand; both are necessary for an organization to run smoothly. But they are not the same.

In fact, when leaders fall into the habit of managing more than leading, it can have disastrous consequences for employee morale and the success of an organization in general.

Of course, as a business owner, it can be hard to let go of personally handling every aspect of your company. But as your company grows, you need to shift your focus and learn to lead your team to success.

In the words of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.”

Understanding the difference between leading and managing is the first step to becoming an influential leader. So here are the key differences between leadership and management that you can use to help steer your efforts in the right direction:

1. Leaders Innovate vs. Maintain

One of the main tasks of a leader is coming up with new ideas, not just for products or services but also for processes that keep the organization running. Leaders create the frameworks and workflows within which employees can work.

Naturally, any new framework or workflow should be informed by what’s happening within the organization. Where are the biggest issues? Where do employees waste most of their time? What can be done to make operations smoother and deliver a better product or service? These are all questions that must be answered by those in positions of leadership, supported by the knowledge of managers.

For example, a manager might notice that the accounting department is wasting a lot of time on invoices. They might acknowledge that this is a repetitive and time-consuming task, but it needs to be done. However, a leader would take this information and recognize that there’s an opportunity for innovation. In this example, the leader could set up an automated invoice system that takes the bulk of work off the financial team’s desks.

In short, managers maintain the status quo and ensure work is done on time. But leaders are always looking to innovate and increase efficiency. Both managers and leaders can play valuable roles in your organization (and might even share overlapping duties). But leadership requires a more proactive mindset, especially when it comes to solving problems.

Enlightened Leadership vs Management

2. Leaders Focus on People vs. Systems

Leaders are supposed to, well, lead. That means inspiring and empowering other people to do their best work. A good leader gathers people around a shared vision and motivates them based on a mutual desire to make that vision come true.

While motivators like money or work-life balance do help, the best employees are often those who are excited to see the company grow and succeed because of their work. This isn’t achieved overnight. But a good leader knows how to make it happen.

One way to better engage with your employees is to encourage ideas and suggestions from all team members. Your business may be your baby. But those on the front often have terrific ideas for improving the organization. Listening to and implementing their feedback can help employees feel connected to your vision and raise the stakes for them.

Above all, communicate openly with your employees. Be transparent about how their role plays into the big picture.

As a leader, you want to build a team that’s proud to work with you by bringing on people who share your values. Hire managers and supervisors who will be an extension of what you do and create a positive working environment.

Your managers, on the other hand, should focus on maintaining existing systems and ensuring things are running smoothly day to day. Of course, management is more in the sense of making sure that they are following the systems correctly and that everyone is doing their job.

A manager’s job focuses on controlling people and systems, while a leader’s job is on creating systems and inspiring people.

3. Leaders Plan for Long-Term vs. Short-Term Goals

Keeping an eye on the prize and looking further ahead than anyone else within a company is definitely a leader’s job. If they get stuck on short-term plans, they waste time and lose track of what’s important.

Think of an organization as a ship. The leader is the captain who looks through the spyglass to see far ahead. The manager is the first officer who tells the crew what to do to get there. The captain is focused on the horizon and long-term direction of the ship, while the first officer handles the day-to-day tasks and operations.

Naturally, daily tasks are crucial to success. But that’s not what a leader should put all of their energy into. Your role as a leader is to set the course and build plans for the future, while a manager would stay firmly on the ground, making sure the short-term goals are met.

Leadership vs. Management: A Shift in Mindset

Leadership and management are both crucial to the organization. But as a leader, it’s important not to lose sight of the big picture.

Rather than managing other people in their roles, you should stay focused on your job: motivating people, planning for the future, and innovating. Give up the mantle of management to those you’ve hired to fill those roles. Free yourself up to lead your organization in the best way possible.

How Do You Define Leadership vs Management?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Kristina Perunicic
Kristina Perunicic
Kristina Perunicic is a freelance writer with Optimist. She studied marketing and occasionally consults local startups on their digital marketing strategy. She specializes in covering small business strategy and B2B content. She also loves reading, volunteering and spending time with her family.
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