Management Versus Leadership: 3 Key Differences

The concept of management versus leadership has traditionally been confused by most. Everyone is talking about leadership and being a good leader, even managers. So even an average manager might think that they’re leading their team. They’re not.

But wait, we’re not here to bash managers. When I read an article about how everyone should be a leader, and make out how managers are like the devil incarnate, I roll my eyes.

You need managers! Managers are there to establish and maintain the status quo. Without the status quo, you’re definitely not going to build a strong organization.

And yes, status quo is not a taboo word.

Without managers, everyone’s going to decide how they want to do things according to their own preferences. Managers are also there to execute the many ideas leaders possess. They make sure that work is completed.

Both Leaders And Managers Are Needed.

Let me repeat: both are needed. One without the other will lead to failure, and both are essential to the success of any organization.

This article is about distinguishing managers and leaders. And stop reading those articles that bash managers.

Don’t Manage People. Lead Them.

Warren Bennis
Warren Bennis

In the words of Bennis and Nanus,

‘People don’t want to be managed. They want to be led. Whoever heard of a ‘world manager’? World leader, yes. Educational leader. Political leader. Religious leader. Scout leader. Community leader. Business leader. They lead. They don’t manage. The carrot always wins over the stick.

Ask your horse. You can lead your horse to water, but you can’t manage him to drink. If you want to manage somebody, manage yourself. Do that well and you’ll be ready to stop managing. And start leading.’

No one likes to be managed. Imagine me telling you, “I need to manage you.” – What does that imply? That if left unmanaged, somehow you will cause disaster to happen? That you’re an uncontrollable maniac that needs to be shackled up? Telling someone they need to be managed is a sure way to insult them.

People want to be led, they don’t want to be managed. You can manage processes, procedures, resources, but people want to be led.


3 Key DifferenceS.

Let’s look at 3 key differences between managers and leaders. And realize that leaders are not the saints and managers are not the devil incarnate.

#1: Leaders Strategize, Managers Execute.

Leaders are the one who strategize. They are the ones who will look at the existing environment and decide if alternative action is necessary, or stick to the status quo. Like the captain of the ship, they look the winds and decide if a change in the direction of the sails is necessary.

If they don’t watch carefully, the organization will be overtaken by competitors and overwhelmed by circumstance. Thus, it is the responsibility of a leader to look on to the horizon and decide if a new strategy is needed.

Managers partner leaders here. They execute what the leader has conceived. A good manager executes the action plans of the leader well, managing the processes and resources. He/she turns the vision into reality.

#2: Leaders Focus On The Big Picture While Managers Manage The Micro-Processes.

Leaders need to look at organizational wide implications when they speak or when they take an action. They need to think of the possible logical consequences FOR THE ORGANIZATION with their decisions. It is not an enviable task, for the livelihood of many is often in your hands.

Managers, on the other hand, need to focus on the efficiency of the micro-processes in the organization. In their execution of the vision, managers often see the flaws in current systems.

Their role is to focus on not just managing the internal processes, but also suggest possible improvements to making the system better.

#3: Leaders Challenge The Status Quo While Managers Work With Them.

It’s the leader’s job to look at the status quo and question what can be done better. They should use a critical eye and a keen ear to observe what needs to be changed and improved.

Through this process, leaders equip their organizations to stay relevant and competitive in an ever-changing landscape.

If leaders mistake their role of that of a manager, then they’re going to find their whole organization becoming obsolete in a few year’s time. Has it happened before? – Many times.

Kodak refused to adopt the digital camera when it first emerged, believing it to be a fad that would die off eventually.


“Kodak’s Leaders Refused To Innovate, And Paid The Price.”

The leaders refused to change the status quo and they eventually had to give up their right to be leaders as the organization as Kodak had to wind up its business.

Managers, on the other hand, work within the status quo given to them. While they may give suggestions of improvement, their roles are not primarily to challenge it.

Their roles are simply to execute so that the organization can run as a whole.

Can a manager play a leader’s role sometimes? – Of course. These are necessary if the organization wants to see small, incremental improvements in the organization.

You Need Both Leaders And Managers.

Any good leader will tell you that managers are necessary for the execution of their visions. If everyone wants to be the leader, who’s going to follow?

You’ll have so many opinions and ideas without anyone willing to execute them! Try walking into a committee meeting with self-proclaimed leaders, and you’ll know what I’m talking about!

Let’s make things clear: You need to play the role of a manager in an organization before you can earn the right to become a leader.

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manager vs leader: 3 key differences

About the Author


Ethan Lin is the founder of and He has a passion to empower and develop people. Professionally, he is a corporate trainer focusing on sales training, leadership development and team building with his company Personality Central.

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