A lot of people think that leadership and management mean the same thing and the two terms are often used interchangeably. But this is not the case at all. In fact, leadership and management have significant different characteristics. 

What is leadership and what is management?

Before we can dissimilate what the difference between leadership and management is, we need to understand what characterizes the two terms.  

The famous Austrian-American management consultant, educator, and author, Peter Drucker, once proclaimed that: “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.” 

With ‘doing things right’ Drucker referred to the fact that managers generally focus on improving performance, maximizing revenues, reducing expenses and so on. Whereas leaders focus on allocating human resources to meet the goal and vision of the organization. 

This is a simple, yet very true, distinction between leadership and management.

Leadership is the ability to inspire and influence

One way to look at leadership is quality of providing to the situation what it needs. 

Leadership is characterized by the ability to inspire others to make them work with you towards a common goal. Leadership is all about leading by example and can be utilized by anyone in a group or organization. You do not necessarily have to be appointed with a formal title to exercise leadership. The most important skills of a leader are to be able to motivate, inspire and influence people to work towards shared goals. Basically, a leader is someone who creates an environment for learning and creativity in which people thrive.

Management is about achieving goals through planning and organizing 

Management, on the other hand, is about coordination, delegation and administration as well as planning and organizing resources to achieve a specific goal in the most effective manner. A manager is usually a person who is assigned to be the manager and to be responsible for planning, organizing, leading and controlling a specific team, group, department or organization. 

The difference between leadership and management

There are some overlaps between the two terms. For instance, a manager can have leadership abilities as well as a leader can have a managerial role.  However, the differences between the two are usually significant. A very telling way of expressing the difference between the two terms is: “Managers do things right; leaders do the right things.” The statement might be an oversimplification, but it certainly has some truth to it. 

Having a vision as opposed to following one

One of the main differences between leadership and management is that leaders are people with vision, whereas managers usually are people who follow a vision. 

Leaders are generally visioners who inspire people to follow their ideas by expressing their enthusiasm and commitment. But more importantly, leaders focus on facilitating a shared vision which people feel a part of, rather than just presenting it for them. They focus on creating the vision in collaboration with others. 

One the other hand, managers are generally people who follow the company’s vision and goals and is responsible for keeping the team or group aligned with those visions and goals. This is done by controlling and planning rather than inspiring and influencing.

Leaders innovate, managers execute 

Another important difference that sets leaders apart from managers is their ability to think ideas, be creative and take risks. 

Managers are generally more calculated and don’t want to take unnecessary risks. Managing is based on control and rationality, whereas leaders look for opportunities, new ideas and forward-thinking. Managers want stability and a cautiously plan. Leaders want disruption and creative thinking.

One may say that having the courage to take risks, is what separates leaders from managers the most and that taking risks is the most important stepping stone for true leaders.

Leaders have followers, managers have employees

Last, one of the main differences between leaders and managers is that leaders have followers whereas managers have employees. Leaders inspire and influence people to follow them and work with them towards a common goal. 

Managers have a staff who follow orders and directions because they are expected to, not necessarily because they are inspired by the leader’s passion or commitment. Therefore, managers tend to instruct rather than motivate. 

Both are important

Although it may seem like a lot more positive connotations are used when describing leadership as opposed to management, both roles are actually very important in an organization. 

No organization can function properly with people who only has leadership skills. This would cause too much disruption and instability. Organizations need people who bring stability and minimizes risks which is exactly what a manager brings. Just as well as most organizations would cease to exist, due to lack of creativity, if no one had leadership skills. 

In the end, diversity and the right mix of people with different skills and capabilities, is what makes an organization successful.

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