Management vs Leadership

Management is about making sure that the "trains run on time" by designing processes, maintaining inventory, and moving resources. Leadership is using people skills to inspire people to do things differently. Leadership takes the baseline of management and builds on it by adding extraordinary people skills.

The year is 1875.

Management vs Leadership

You're sleeping quietly in your bed when suddenly someone starts pounding your door with a baton. You can't afford an alarm clock so this man is employed by your company to make sure you wake up and get to work on time. Once he knows you're up he moves on to next door. You get to work, clock in, start producing your widgets. The whistle sounds to signal your lunch break, it sounds again an hour later notifying you to get back to the production line. You produce a load more widgets, clock out, and set off home. This is management in a nutshell.

Fortunately we've made a lot of progress since the industrial revolution. We've realised we can help people achieve greater results by adding in leadership skills as a layer on top of management: treating people as people rather than machines.


Management is important, someone needs to make sure the warehouse is full of stock, that the delivery vehicles are well maintained, and the hotel has been booked for the conference. Things like inventory, processes, and machinery need managing.


You will always get better results from leading people and managing things. Trying to manage a person is as ridiculous as trying to lead the stationery cupboard.

Leadership is about helping people get extraordinary results. It is not about your job title, your position in the hierarchy or who's been at the company the longest. It's not about seniority or status, and it's definitely not about management.

Leadership is not just something used in extraordinary circumstances by exceptional people. Leadership is something that should happen everyday in ordinary situations. Any time people interact there is an opportunity for leadership: whether you’re running errands or running a company.

Let's go through some different areas and talk about how you can upgrade your management skills by mixing in some leadership.


Targets or KPIs are usually determined externally, either given by a boss or the company. Targets are usually the same as last year or maybe increased slightly or adjusted based on performance. There may be incentives to beat targets based on some kind of monetary reward. A good manager aims for the upper end of their targets while making sure there is no possibility of backsliding. Management is about staying on course or maintaining the status quo.

Upgrade to Leadership

Taking the management approach as a baseline, leaders think about how they can dramatically increase results with fewer resources. They take a people centric approach by thinking about people's strengths and weaknesses and how they can best be deployed. Or whether training and development can improve their team's capabilities. They may look at how the relationship with customers and suppliers can be optimised. Or they may look at the internal relationships between teams within the organisation and how they can be improved. They would look for experienced people inside and outside the company to get advice, coaching or mentorship. They might look at unrelated industries or disciplines to get innovative ideas to drastically improve output. They will look at the big picture, rather than getting bogged down in minutiae. A leader will think about larger business objectives and contribute to the goals of other teams, not just concentrate on her own team.

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. – Peter Drucker


Managers are clear about their position in the hierarchy. It's clear what the manager's area of scope is, who her team is, and who her line manager is. A manager will take good care of her own team, making sure they have access to the resources they need to get their jobs done, and giving advice when needed. She will keep her own manager well informed and maintain good communication, making sure that she is being a good team member to her superiors.

Upgrade to Leadership

Leaders take free rein to influence whomever they need to in order to get a job done. Leaders can (and do) lead down, across and up no matter whether they are subordinates, colleagues, team members, customers, suppliers, partners and even superiors.

A leader uses her people skills to sell the boss on a creative idea, inspire those around her, and achieve results outside her job description and team.

Leaders are defined by their actions not what their business card says.

Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another. – Napoleon Hill


Managers are experts in focus, paying attention to details and processes. They are committed to working hard and doing whatever it takes to get the job done.

Upgrade to Leadership

Leaders are just as committed and hard working but they also take the time to think about the bigger picture and develop strategy. To question whether the work that the team is doing is required at all or if a different approach would achieve greater results or get there faster. Managers are working in the business, leaders are working on the business.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. – Abraham Lincoln


A manager makes sure the performance of individuals on her team is as required, ensuring they have the technical skills and training they need.

Upgrade to Leadership

Leaders are concerned about how the team works as a whole. Making sure the right people are in the right roles. She will help her team develop their own leadership skills knowing that improving relationships will help the team add up to more than the sum of its parts. She will also be aware of how the team's relationships with other areas of the business will affect results and will work to make sure they are working optimally.

Some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together. – Queen Elizabeth II


Managers use the right balance of reward and punishment to make sure their team members stay on track.

Upgrade to Leadership

Leaders recognise that people are motivated by more than just money. A leader will figure out how to make the person want to do it and do it to the best of their ability. A leader won't give someone a job, they'll give them a cause. Leaders help people discover their own reasons for doing something. Leadership is about inspiring people.

Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it. – Dwight Eisenhower


Managers are great at focussing on the current time period: month, quarter or year. Making sure all the ducks are in a row, that people know what they're doing, they have what they need, and resources required are available. All in service of making sure they hit their targets and don't let the business down.

Upgrade to Leadership

Leaders get these basics covered but also take a long term view. They develop a vision, sell that vision to other people, and gather together the right people to make it happen.

Leadership is having a compelling vision, a comprehensive plan, relentless implementation, and talented people working together. – Alan Mulally


Managers tend to fall into two groups: those who mainly praise and those who mainly criticise. We just tend to default to whichever one we find most comfortable. If we find one type particularly uncomfortable we might deliver the message over email rather than face to face.

Upgrade to Leadership

A leader is quick to give praise and slow to criticise. A leader won't tell someone off unless it's absolutely necessary (sometimes it definitely is). A leader knows the right situations to praise and the right time to give constructive criticism. They don't shy away from either. And they always give their message with concern for the other person, tailoring their words to the person in front of them at that particular moment, and they always do it face to face – no matter how uncomfortable. Not everyone is the same, some welcome frank honest feedback while others find it very hard and emotional. Leaders love feedback because they need it to improve and develop themselves and others.

Once I did bad and that I heard ever. Twice I did good, but that I heard never. – Dale Carnegie

Communication Skills

Managers are practised presenters and communicators, whether in meetings or in front of clients. They are adept at making sure they convey the right information, they communicate technical concepts clearly and don't waffle or include irrelevant details.

Upgrade to Leadership

Leaders take communication skills to the next level. They use emotion – humour, sadness or enthusiasm – to inspire people to action. They use narrative and drama to persuade and interest their audience.

Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something. – Plato

People Development

Managers value training and technical skills development. They encourage their team to improve their capabilities through reading, research or training programmes in order to be more productive in their roles and to be at the top of their game.

Upgrade to Leadership

Leaders encourage their people to work on soft skills and on developing areas that might not be directly related to their role, because relationships, attitudes and diversity can have huge and far greater impact than technical knowledge alone.

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it. – Pablo Picasso


Managers are experts at developing processes and managing KPIs. They can trust their team because they know they are competent and that the processes are battle tested. They are there for their team if things go wrong or need any help.

Upgrade to Leadership

A leader trusts their team because they have built a team they can trust. They've done the hard work of letting their people make mistakes and learn lessons themselves. They give their team the leeway to deviate from process and procedure if they think it's absolutely necessary, knowing that even if they're wrong they will learn an important lesson.

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. – Lao Tzu


Managers take care to nurture the mood of their team. They might bring in cakes on Friday or throw an office party to keep morale up. They notice how people are feeling and help people however they can.

Upgrade to Leadership

Leaders look beyond the day to day mood of people and create a culture by leading by example. They develop a particular type of culture intentionally because they know that culture does a lot of heavy lifting in terms of leadership. Cultures make it clear what behaviours are expected of people and which are not tolerated. They make sure the culture they are developing is tailored to the goals of the company.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. – Peter Drucker


Managers, rightly, are experts in managing risk. They eliminate risk wherever they find it.

Upgrade to Leadership

Leaders have a more nuanced view of risk. They are willing to take risks because they realise it is necessary sometimes to achieve large results. Leaders are willing to try new things even if they may fail miserably. They know that failure is often a step on the path to success. They realise even if a risk doesn't pay off it will provide valuable learning and lessons to be used in future.

If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever. – Thomas Aquinas


Being a leader is difficult. It can be tiring, awkward and uncomfortable. Leadership doesn't fit into a nice matrix, table or list. It's complicated, difficult, and constantly changes based on the context. A leader needs to behave differently based on the person they're dealing with, the situation, the state of mind that person is in and a million other variables.

Management is done with power and authority, compelling others to do what we need them to do when we need them to do it. Leadership on the other hand always involves voluntary compliance. It always involves people eagerly following the leader. – Seth Godin