Study Post: Leadership v. Management

When studying and learning about leadership, one of the most important things to learn is the difference between leadership and management. Because of the common structure of organizations and businesses, managers are often assumed to be leaders, but this is not always the case. Just as a rectangle CAN be a square but a rectangle is NOT ALWAYS a square, managers CAN be leaders but managers are NOT ALWAYS leaders. We will dive in-depth to explore this further.


Management is a term very often associated with the business world. A manager is put in place and assigned subordinates. For our purposes let’s think of a manager like the shift manager at a fast food restaurant. Most fast food shift managers work only to ensure that orders are filled and cleanliness is maintained at the minimal level. They are responsible for making sure that their employees show up on time, do their tasks, and that the restaurant does not burn down. Rarely does a shift manager do anything to inspire their subordinates to go above and beyond. When someone does go above and beyond, the manager probably rewards them by putting their name on the employee of the month plaque. If an employee causes problems, a manager punishes them and keeps them in line.

A manager that does a good job will have the store running well and customers and employees will be reasonably happy. Performance metrics will be met. However, there will be no discussions of what great potential the team has and what they might be able to accomplish. Instead, the manager makes sure that everyone does their job and the machine keeps running and little more than that.

Managers have several basic functions: planning, organizing, staffing, directing, controlling/monitoring, and motivation. Managers gain their authority in several ways: legitimate power, reward power, coercive power, referent power, or information power.


Leadership is a much more overarching term than management. If a manager has subordinates, a leader has followers. These individuals follow the leader willingly and on their own accord (this is a very important distinction). Let’s use Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, as our example of a leader. Sure Welch was in a management position: CEO, but he did not limit his work to simple management. Welch took over and created a famous vision: to make GE #1 or #2 in every product they manufactured or to stop manufacturing a given product. GE, of course, followed Welch and achieved this goal.

A leader creates a vision, thinks outside of the box, leads by example, and mentors their followers to accomplish a goal. Goals will be met and followers will be become better people for having followed their leader. Great leaders are able to persuade their followers to go above and beyond to accomplish their vision because they truly believe in what they are doing.

When compared to managers, leaders derive their power in many different ways: legitimate power, expert power, charisma power, or information power. As you can see, a leader assumes their authority by influencing other people while a manager finds their power through the position they are in. That is truly what the difference between management and leadership boils down to. It is important to remember, though, that a manager CAN still be a leader and in fact many great leaders are also managers (see Welch, Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Walt Disney).


“Guide them by edicts, keep them in line with punishments, and the common people will stay out of trouble but will have no sense of shame. Guide them by virtue, keep them in line with the rites, and they will, besides having a sense of shame, reform themselves.” –Confucius

“If there is a clear distinction between the process of managing and the process of leading it is between getting others to do – managing – and getting others to want to do – leading.” –Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge

“Management is about skills, leadership is about skills coupled with character.” –Patrick and Joane Gebhardt, Five Star Leadership

Other Resources

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One thought on “Study Post: Leadership v. Management

  1. deesfood says:

    I enjoyed reading this post as I tend to see one as the other – so always see a manager as a leader, and when I see a leader not in a managerial position – I wonder why the person is not a managerial role. Reading your post, it came back to me that sometimes a leader needs to be outside the managerial role to really help shape the vision to reality.

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