Leadership is Not the Same as Management

See also: Leadership Trait Theory

People often confuse the terms 'manager' and 'leader'; they are not the same thing although it is possible to be both.

A leader has a vision, a number of visions, or is creating visions – in this context a vision is an overarching idea or achievable dream.

Managers, on the other hand, plan - planning is used to enable the manager to do the job well.

Leadership is about asking the questions, ‘what’ and ‘why’ and empowering people (followers) by giving them the responsibility to do things right. 

Leaders therefore work with people and their emotions.

Managers ask, ‘how’ and work mainly with processes, models and systems – things.

One of the most famous distinctions between managers and leaders was made by Warren Bennis, a professor at the University of Southern California.

Bennis believes that “Managers do things right but leaders do the right things”.  This is down to how we think about things – if you think about doing something right you tend to think about mechanisms or ‘how-to’s’ of the task at hand: this is what a manager does. 

Doing the right thing however is a much more philosophical concept and makes us think about the future, about vision and dreams: this is a trait of a leader.

Bennis goes on to compare these thoughts in more detail, the table below is based on his work:

A Manager A Leader
Administers Innovates
Maintains Develops
Focuses on systems and structure Focuses on people and emotions
Controls systems and people Inspires people
Accepts the way things are Challenges the way things are
Has a short-range view Has a long-range perspective
Manages tasks Leads people

Risky Leaders and Careful Managers

The distinction between the manager and leader is also about the risks (or perceived risks) that either will take.

Managers tend to be risk-averse whereas leaders are generally more likely to take risks, although this does not necessarily make them thrill-seekers.

Leaders are concerned with fulfilling their vision and therefore consider it natural to encounter problems and barriers that must be overcome along the way.

Leaders are generally more comfortable with risk and therefore accept that the direction needed to reach their vision is not always the easiest path.

  • A leader can turn problems into opportunities and will happily break rules in order to get things done.
  • Managers tend to be more focused on the status quo and will try to minimise risk.
See our page: Risk Management for more information.

A surprising number of leaders have overcome some form of handicap in their lives:

For example, traumatic childhoods, dyslexia, and even being shorter than average.

This perhaps taught them the independence of mind that is needed to do things differently, take risks, and to not worry too much about what others are thinking about them.

  • Managers have subordinates, people who work under them and follow the rules.
  • Leaders, at least when they are leading (many are also managers), have followers.

Following is a voluntary action and is achieved, at least in part, by the charisma of the leader. 

Charisma comes from excellent interpersonal skills and the understanding that you cannot always tell people what to do. It is more effective to inspire people and make them want to follow you. 

Leaders often use transformational benefits as motivators for their followers, that is the belief that somehow the follower will become a better person for following. 

Such motivators are very powerful, more so than more traditional work-related motivators such as money, better working conditions or other benefits.

See our pages: Motivating Others and Building a Motivational Environment for more information.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership eBooks

Learn more about the skills you need to be an effective leader.

Our eBooks are ideal for new and experienced leaders and are full of easy-to-follow practical information to help you to develop your leadership skills.

The roles of manager and leader are often blurred and, due to individual personalities and skills, it may not always be obvious who is a leader in any given situation.

We hope this page has helped to confirm that the roles of managers and leaders are in fact entirely different.