Leadership vs Management Explained

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As a leadership coach, I often get asked about the difference between leadership and management. While both leadership and management are important in an organization, they are distinct concepts with different focuses. Unfortunately, too many people pitch leadership traits versus management traits as though we should aspire to have leadership traits but not have management traits. Management traits are usually painted negatively and unnecessary and leadership traits are usually presented as the solution. That is not a proper approach. Every organization needs all leaders to practice great leadership traits including all the managers.

Here is a brief comparison and contract of what great management and great leadership:

  • Leadership is about vision, inspiration, and direction. A leader sets a vision for the future, motivates and inspires others to work towards that vision, and navigates the organization towards that future state. A leader has the ability to influence and persuade others to achieve common goals. These leadership traits need to be practiced by executives, upper managers, middle managers, frontline supervisors and frontline team leaders. 
  • Management, on the other hand, refers to the day-to-day administration and implementation of the tasks, assignments and expectations of the things decided and the jobs at hand. Management ensures that processes are written, communicated, trained and adhered. By definition, management is essential to ensuring the  vision and agreed projects are implemented faithfully by all stakeholders, to foster order, stability, scalability, and consistent excellence throughout the organization. Usually executives have to practice less management skills than middle managers and supervisors. Middle managers and supervisors should be incredible at these management traits.

In short, leadership is about vision, direction, and inspiration, and management is about organizing, alignment and execution. Both are incredibly important, but the focus of each is different, and we should not pitch one against the other. Successful companies have executives, managers and supervisors who are great leaders together in their respective levels.

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