All too often, the terms leadership and management are used interchangeably. After all, aren’t managers the ones who are supposed to be leaders?
Well, yes, but they aren’t the only leaders. And — unfortunately — not every manager is truly a leader either. Leaders are created through development, not promotion. Management and leadership are overlapping responsibilities, but they’re not the same thing.
Let’s compare leadership vs. management in the workplace to assess what leadership is, what management is, key differences between them, and how to leverage both.
To start, let’s look into what leadership really is and who leaders are. We’ll look at the characteristics of a great leader, the roles of leaders, and developing leadership skills.
What Makes a Leader?
Leadership is the creation of positive change through vision and strategy. A leader is someone who’s exacting change that moves the company in a positive direction. A leader can be the person in charge of the entire organization, or somebody spearheading a single project. What matters is that they inspire people to work toward a goal. Some of the qualities that make a great leader include:
Leaders come up with the vision. They’re the ones good at capturing where the group’s work should go and what needs to happen to get there.
Leaders who are worth their salt are also full of integrity. They show up, they do what they say, and they hold their team accountable. Their integrity is part of what makes them inspiring to help move their teammates toward the overall vision.
Communication is an important part of any position, but it’s crucial for a leader. In fact, every successful leader needs to be a good communicator. With communication skills, leaders help everyone do the work they need to do and do so in a way that empowers team members.
Decisions are a part of business, and a great leader is prepared to be decisive when the team needs it. Providing this clarity is a good trait in leaders because it enables them to better be able to guide their teams.They gather information, consider multiple perspectives, and eventually make the best decision available.
Leadership Style Awareness
Leadership styles are important and varying. In fact, individual leadership styles account for 70% of employee motivation and productivity. For example, democratic leaders are able to foster collaboration, helping team members feel motivated. A coaching leadership style helps create an inclusive environment where everyone can be productive. The key is knowing which leadership style suits you so you can lead authentically.
Roles of Leadership
Leaders can have many roles, and they might focus on particular leadership responsibilities over others at different seasons of their careers.
That being said, they generally focus on:
One of the roles of a great leader is to inspire the people around them. When your team or company has a vision, the role of the leader is to inspire everyone to achieve that. They make the goal attractive and worthy, and the team puts in the effort to make it also a reality. That’s the power of a good leader.
Leading by Example
Leaders inspire with more than words. They’re also people who lead by example, giving the team someone to emulate. This can improve your productivity and build trust among the team.
Leaders also provide support to their teams. They offer help when it’s needed, and they encourage their team members. Support might mean helping finish or delegate a project, or it might be recognizing an employee who accomplished a valuable task.
Developing Leadership in the Workplace
Leaders are developed, not born. Everyone is leadership material, with the right support.
That also means someone does not become a leader overnight. Instead, you’re going to have to create a strong leadership development plan to take yourself from a team member to a true leader.
Leaders are the visionaries responsible for inspiring the team along the way. So who are the managers, and how’s that different? Let’s look at the intricacies of what management actually is.
What Makes a Manager?
A manager is someone who executes a leadership vision and turns it into reality. Managers have a few key responsibilities:
When an organization has a goal, it’s management’s job to turn that into an achievable plan. If a leader comes up with the vision of what the organization is capable of, the manager then figures out how to turn that into nitty gritty details that’ll make it possible to achieve the overall vision. Managers think about execution, not just big goals.
Once a manager has a plan, they’re also the ones responsible for organizing the team and the work to make that all happen. They usually oversee teams and can drive their efforts toward the big picture goals. Again, management is in charge of executing plans and goals, and they organize teams to make that happen.
Managers also control the direction of the team. They keep their teams pointed toward their goals and objectives. Managers essentially control the direction of the work and the team.
Problem-solving is the ability to see a problem and find probable solutions that’ll still help the organization move forward. Management takes a vision and goal and turns it into an actionable plan, which is problem-solving. That’s not the only instance that they need to problem-solve, though. Anytime an obstacle pops up on the road to success, the management team is responsible for solving it, so everyone can keep moving forward.
Communication is the bedrock of everything in the business world. Managers who communicate well are able to help their teams operate smoothly. In fact, when managers are great communicators, tasks like delegation, conflict management, motivation, and relationship building are all easier.
Roles of Managers
Managers aren’t secondary to leaders. They’re vitally important to every organization. In fact, managers account for 70% of their team’s engagement. Managers set the workplace tone. They provide the organizational structure for a team. Here are a few key roles of a great manager:
Managers can help keep their teams on track by helping everyone understand their specific roles. Only about half of employees feel confident that they understand exactly what’s expected of them. Managers can fix that and help everyone feel confident in what’s expected of them.
It’s up to managers to support the growth of their employees and in helping them become better. Your team expects it: 49% of employees expect their managers to help them develop. Failing to meet this expectation can be costly, as 29% of people will quit from a lack of development opportunities. Supporting growth can come in so many different ways: paying for development courses, helping employees identify their aspirations, establishing mentoring programs, and more.
Developing Managerial Skills
All of that being said, good managers can be hard to find. Most of the time—82%, in fact—organizations choose the wrong managerial candidate because it can be so hard to identify what exactly makes a good manager. The skills we’ve discussed are what help make someone an excellent manager and help HR professionals identify them.
The good news is that managerial skills can be developed, so anyone can work to become a stellar manager. Becoming a good manager involves emulating the traits of a great manager in your day-to-day work and letting that become a part of who you are and what you do at work.
Differentiating Leadership and Management
Now that we’ve looked at leadership and management as general ideas, it’s time to dive into what the key differences are between the two. First, it’s important to acknowledge keys areas of overlap:
Both leaders and managers need to be communicators first and foremost. Both leaders and managers need to be able to communicate with their teams and be able to communicate the most important aspects clearly.
Leaders and managers are solving problems left and right. Leaders are usually solving problems at a high level where the problem is about the bigger picture. Managers help solve the nitty gritty detail problems on how things should run, but both should be great problem-solvers.
Managers and leaders are almost constantly making decisions. Leaders and managers both need to make decisions efficiently and stick to them (unless there’s something that should change the course).
When something changes at an organization, the leaders and managers are the ones who guide the team through the change. Leaders usually understand the change itself (after all, they’re probably the ones driving the change) and can help employees see what the purpose of the change is. Managers understand their teams and how to organize them to change direction.
Leadership vs. Management
Even with all of those overlaps, there are still some key differences between leadership and management. Let’s look at four of them:
Leaders and managers have different focuses. Leadership focuses on inspiring and influencing people, creating a shared vision, and guiding individuals and teams towards achieving long-term goals. Management focuses on planning, organizing, and controlling resources and processes to ensure efficient operations, meet short-term objectives, and deliver desired outcomes.
Simply put, leaders set the vision, and managers execute the vision. If you think of an organization as a ship, the leaders are the ones focused on picking the destination and where the ship is sailing. The managers are the ones who figure out what path takes the ship there, who needs to perform what task, and how the ship can get there.
Leaders and managers usually take different approaches to performing their crucial roles. Leadership emphasizes leading by example, empowering others, and fostering innovation, creativity, and adaptability. Management emphasizes overseeing tasks, setting expectations, and ensuring adherence to established processes and procedures.
Think of it this way. Leaders emulate specific traits that can empower the team, and they inspire those around them to become better. Managers are the ones who help everyone know their specific roles and then oversee that to make sure it all works.
Managers and leaders have different goals. Leadership aims to inspire and motivate individuals and teams, foster a positive work culture, and drive organizational growth, transformation, and long-term success. They’re the ones inspiring long-term success and development. Management aims to achieve operational efficiency, meet targets and deadlines, maintain stability, and optimize resource allocation. Managers take care of the nitty gritty and help make sure everyone stays on track and is efficient.
There’s overlap here still. If we go back to the metaphor of the ship, both managers and leaders have the same goal of getting the ship where it needs to go, but leaders focus their goals on the destination while managers focus their individual efforts to make it possible. So while everyone has the same end goal, daily goals will differ.
Managers and leaders are both people who work with people, but their relationships with them are different.
Leadership focuses on building relationships, trust, and collaboration with team members, stakeholders, and external partners. They’re the ones managing relationships with people outside of the organization and individuals within the organization still.
Management focuses on supervising and coordinating individuals, assigning tasks, providing feedback, and ensuring compliance with policies and procedures. They’re the ones who are working alongside and overseeing individuals. They don’t focus on the external partners, only the ones on their team.
It can be helpful to think of leaders as the ones who focus on the people while managers focus on the processes that lead to success. Leaders focus on who the people they work with are. They need to understand who their teams are, their passions, desires, strengths, weaknesses, and values. Managers are the ones who need to align business processes with business objectives. That does involve overseeing and working with people, but their relationship is still about processes.
Balancing Leadership and Management Roles for Success
Organizations need both leadership and management. After all, they’re performing some pretty different roles with differing objectives.
How do you balance both roles at your organization, though? Here are a few tips:
Align Goals and Strategies
Your leaders are usually the ones responsible for the organization’s goals, and your managers are usually over the strategies that get everyone there. So balancing leadership and management involves keeping those aligned. When everything is aligned, leaders and managers can work together nearly seamlessly to oversee the organization and individual teams.
Delegate and Empower
Delegating is a key facet of leadership and management. When both leaders and managers are empowered to delegate, performance can improve. Managers and leaders are also both in a position to empower their own teams. They can help inspire them or provide them with the tools they need to succeed.
Lead by Example
This is so important it’s worth repeating: Great leaders lead by example. That holds true when you’re training leaders and managers too. You can help your leaders and managers learn more about their own potential by leading by example. Show what a leader does, and show what a great manager does.
Here’s one final thought on balancing leadership and management: ultimately, those are just terms. Anyone can be a leader at any level. That also means a manager can become a leader—even if their overall goals are different.
Overcoming Challenges in Combining Leadership and Management
If your organization is hitting a few roadblocks to combining leadership and management, here are two tips:
Develop a Clear Vision
With a clear vision, your managers and leaders can be aligned on what needs to happen and where the organization is going. There’s a smaller chance for clashes when everyone’s on the same page.
Let your leaders and managers collaborate! Get them in the same room and have them get talking about what they both need and want for the organization and their individual teams. That’s a great way to help their individual objectives align, so your organizational ship is heading where everyone wants and on an effective path.
Leading With Wellbeing
Leadership and management are different components of a great business. Leaders set the vision, and managers help everyone get there.
One key role of leaders is to set an example of wellness for the rest of the organization. When leaders set the tone of a healthy workplace, it is easy for individual team members to follow in their footsteps. There’s a reason that 93% of c-suites consider wellness programs important for employee satisfaction.
Talk to a Gympass wellbeing specialist to discuss how to kickstart your own wellness programs.
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The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.
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