Management and Supervision vs. Leadership

By Barbara Jordan

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

There seems to be an ongoing debate about leadership vs. management and supervision.

Do you think they are exclusively different, one and the same, or are they related and inter-mingled?

Based on your experiences, what thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions do you have about the leadership vs. management debate?

Let’s talk about this for a moment. I often ask my audiences to complete these three sentence stems:

Management is…

Supervision is…

Leadership is…

Both leaders and managers are held accountable for performance. Both lead and manage people and influence others, right?

Management and Supervision

Managers seem to get things done.

They and their direct reports take credit for specific projects and revenue streams. Supervision is the direction of people at work, while management is the planning and control of the work process, yes?

Supervision is giving employees specific instructions on what is to be done, monitoring their efforts, and holding them accountable for specific results.

Management is developing a goal for what is to be done.

Key components of a management goal are:

  • A plan to get the work done
  • How work will be broken down into steps
  • How much time will each step take
  • The sequence in which it should be done and the resources needed
  • Monitoring the plan to see that the work goes according to the plan
  • Taking corrective action on anything that deviates from the original plan
Supervising Workers

Managers vs. Leaders

Leaders seem to do well at giving direction or expectations to excel.

Whereas managers maintain systems and processes, leaders influence people to follow, right?

Managers say they know more about the functions of the business, and without them, the leaders would falter. The leaders say that they’re not supposed to focus on daily functions.

Instead, they should focus on the future and the road ahead. Managers focus on how to get there, whereas leaders state where to go.

Leaders say that they build followers who choose to follow regardless of how much they make.

Managers counter with, “Just because they follow you doesn’t mean they’re productive and effective.” Leaders emulate historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Bill Gates. Managers bring up productivity gurus such as David Allen and Edwards Deming.


There are differences between leaders and managers.

However, when it comes to running a company, organization, school, or any setting where many people are working towards one goal, there will always be leaders and managers.

They co-exist; they need each other for optimal output. Leaders need managers to take care of the functions, lead and develop others, and find process improvements. Managers need leaders for vision, influence, and guidance.

Leadership 101

To be more than a supervisor or manager, but a leader, follow these 23 suggestions from John Maxwell’s “Leadership 101”:

  • Be a role model
  • Accept responsibility
  • Do more than expected
  • Offer creative ideas for change
  • Genuinely respect people
  • Become a change agent
  • Find win-win solutions
  • Value people more than procedures
  • See through others’ eyes; meet their needs
  • Initiate and accept responsibility for growth
  • Develop and follow a statement of purpose
  • Develop accountability for results, starting with yourself
  • Know & do high-return activities
  • Do your job with consistent excellence
  • Communicate the strategy and vision of the organization
  • Make people you work with more successful
  • Make difficult decisions that make a difference
  • Place priority on developing others
  • Place your efforts in the top 20% of your people

Lastly, “What is one thing you could possibly do to be more of a leader and less of a manager or supervisor?”

Take one of the above steps, and you’ll see your leadership success increase significantly.

How Do You See Leadership and Supervision?

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

 Would you like to contribute a post?

Barbara Jordan
Barbara Jordan
Barbara is an author, speaker, and leadership coach. Sign up to receive the ezine “Success Tips for Busy Leaders” or sign up to receive a free sample chapter of Achieve Success In Spite of Stress. Connect with her via Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
  • Ramdeo choudhary says:

    It is an interesting article with valuable inputs in the form of desirable slogans for managers and leaders.The difficulty arises when people want to practice them and can not control or modify their genetic conditioning of ego( filled up with belief systems inherited from surroundings) to make their practice more effective. Up to managers level somehow one can prolong under the command of their leader. But the leader finds difficulty to command because he has not assimilated in him the qualities of leaders but knew them from text books. As a result he is not effective as a leader. In order to become a leader one has to kill his mammalian tendencies through rigorous practice of reflective contemplation and side by side assimilating the qualities as mentioned in the article. Unless the qualities as called for to become a leader become our muscular or cellular memory or intelligence, we can not fully discharge the duties of a leader by reading books. Through this double track method we understand the rights and responsibilities of a leader as enumerated in the article at our cellular level. Perception, clarity, posturing and positioning etc we menifest from a much deeper level with an element of originality and authenticity. Contemplative practices, therefore, should become an essential part of leadership training.

  • Abbas Moussa says:

    Thank you Barbara, your easy and simple style added a lot for me regarding Leaders vs Managers.

  • Jon Matsuo says:

    Barabara, this is always a challengng subject because it is so complex. What helps me sort through this is considering what the ideal results a great manager and leader combination would produce. I think that these results would be: 1)all problems are noticed and solved at the lowest level or where they come from (2) all know where the ship is headed, and what is needed from them personally to get it there. 3) people have the ability, responsiblity and commitment to produce their portions professionally, 4)integrity, collaboration and other values are the most powerful forces, eclipsing the need for rules, 5)employees consider their positions a privilege, not work, because the rewards the culture offers are much more important to them than pay.(Of course, in such an organizatoin, the pay would be darn good)

    I think targeting results, rather than tasks or duties makes it easier to clarify what success is.

  • E Mondini says:

    Management….. “This is the goal and these are the steps you will use to achieve it, without deviation.”
    Supervision…. This is the goal and these are the steps management wants you to use to achieve it without deviation.”
    Leadership….. “This is the goal. Now that you know what it is, I leave it completely in your hands to achieve it, by any method you devise, without violating the rules of integrity and conduct, accomplished within the stated time frame and accompanied by regular and frequent updates of progress.”

  • David McCuistion says:


    After a couple of reads of your article, I’m not sure I totally agree with your position.

    First of all separating leaders and supervisor/supervision says that supervisors are not leaders. I feel they are directly responsible for exercising the proper leadership to insure maximum productivity of their people.

    Early in your article you state that Managers and Leaders both manage, lead and influence people. Managers are generally not responsible for leading those doing the work. They manage resources such as finances, products, planning, etc. Leaders leave all that to manager and are responsible for influencing, mentoring, counseling and motivating people to get the job done with high efficiency and productivity.

    Just an observation based on my many years in management and leadership.

    None the less, it is a good article and I did pass it along to my Leadership Seekers group. Thank you.

  • Edward Mondini says:

    No, managers and supervisors cannot be defined as “leaders”. Yes, it is true they “lead”, but Barbara is making a very clear distinction between “Leaders” and all other sub-groups within the parent group. The reason a person fails to be cognizant of that distinction is because there are so precious few Leaders; the world is run by managers and supervisors. Of course, the uninformed will look at managers or supervisors as leaders; there is no other comparative model that helps define the essence of a leader. David is not to be demonized, however; it is not his fault that he perceives this as he does. Our culture and our society are to blame for failing him and his contemporaries. More than ever, we need Leaders and there are none.

    • Brent Kremer says:

      I would respectfully disagree, Edward.

      I think any single person “in charge” of others has to have a mixture of the three skill sets (supervision, management, and leadership) – how *well* they do that (reflecting their ability to wield the mix of aptitude, experience, and training/education) and to what *extent* they do so (reflecting the needs of the org/team to execute their mission/roles towards the larger expectations of the organization) is a dynamic optimization of those three skill sets.

      The skill sets are unique, but not necessarily mutually exclusive nor manifested in equal capability within an individual.

      And this admittedly my perspective based on my experience (20+ years active military, 15+ years Gov service – all in supervisory/management/leadership roles), and not necessarily “text book”

      Supervision are those administratively-required actions to set individual job expectations, ensure they’re accomplished (including functions like setting work hours, approving leave, etc.), assess performance, etc.

      Management is wielding the resources you have at your disposal (personnel, equipment, technology, etc.) to optimize an achieved outcome (or outcomeS).

      Leadership is inspiring/motivating people to *want* to perform the best they can.

      It’s been my experience that any one person has various strengths/weaknesses at differing levels in each of those skill sets. I’ve had non-supervisory junior enlisted Soldiers inspire and motivate others by their contagious energy and dedication, literally rallying those around them to greater achievement with their passion and commitment to a task/mission at hand – i.e., they LED.

      Just my thoughts and observations for what it’s worth…

  • Sonya Joseph-DeBurr says:

    A manager or supervisor performs a function. A leader demonstrates a behavior. The manager or supervisor coordinates the resources and strategizes to reach goals. The cherry on top is for that individual to also possess the leadership skills that MOVE the human resources to achieve the best results for all involved. The leader (regardless of their title) leaves a positive influence on the participants AFTER the project is completed and has, in some way, helped to make them better.

  • Shelly Thelen says:

    I THINK you have the wrong credit for the quote on your site. Warren Bennis said “Management is doing things right; Leadership is doing the right think” Not Peter Drucker. They were both innovators and leaders in their fields of Leadership and Management.

  • Anand Lakshmanan says:

    This is a very thought-provoking article. As you rightly put it early on, in the article, every organization need people of all kinds – Leaders, Managers, Supervisors. Reflecting more on the divisions between the three, I feel that the best Leader is one who understands this difference well, and applies them to the right situation – he may need to become a supervisor or a manager in certain contexts and be a leader in others (a lot to do with Situational Leadership).

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