“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” -Stephen Covey

While the terms “management” and “leadership” are often used synonymously, several features differentiate these roles and those who fill them.

“You manage things; you lead people.” – Grace Murray Hopper

The difference between inspiration and motivation is that the first is external, and the second internal. One can inspire people but they have to motivate themselves. This applies to leading vs. managing, as well.

One Can Lead Others, But Those People Have To Manage Themselves.

The lens through which leaders and managers look at the organization and their places in it is also different. Harvard Business School professor John P. Kotter writes that leadership is “associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities.”

Leaders are able develop a vision and inspire their people to follow and help realize it.

Managers, on the other hand, have to be concerned with the day-to-day operation of the organization. As Kotter notes, “Management helps you to produce products and services as you have promised, of consistent quality, on budget, day after day, week after week.

While leaders think about improving the future, managers think about improving now, ensuring processes and policies work efficiently so they can meet their mission today.

Other key differences:

  • Leaders deal with change; managers maintain the status quo.
  • Leaders are proactive; managers are reactive.
  • Leaders look to the future; managers focus on the short-term.

In On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis writes, “The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.”

At the Intersection of Leadership and Management

How do the roles of leader and manager intersect and diverge?

Good Leader, Good Managers

A person can be a good leader, with eyes pointed at the horizon, and a good manager who drives action now. He or she has the ability to envision a better future, coupled with the capacity to ensure their team works toward it in a methodical way.

Good Leader, Poor Manager

This person has the vision; he or she can inspire their staff to see it for themselves and generate excitement about moving towards it. What they lack is the ability to tangibly assist the workers get through the tasks on their plates.

Good Manager, Poor Leader

Still others are agile managers who can maintain the status quo and effectively “produce the products and services” the organization needs. At the same time, though, they need someone to lead them, to provide the vision that will drive them.

Poor Leader, Poor Manager

Finally, you have bad managers who are bad leaders and bad leaders who are bad managers – and those are the people who (should) get fired. Or at least never put in charge of anyone!

The bottom line is that there is a role for those who can do one or both: manage or lead. Organizations can’t do without leaders, but they need people to follow through with daily activities.

Likewise, they can’t do without managers, but they must have those with vision to lead them.

The need for both is clear, and the question for individuals becomes, “Where’s my skill level? Where’s my aptitude?” Not everyone can lead; not everyone can manage. But when they find their place, they can contribute meaningfully to the success of the organization, no matter which role they hold.