Managers and leaders: both are necessary, and the distinctions between the two are subtle, but important. Management and leadership go together in that they’re complementary, and attempting to completely separate the two roles would probably be inefficient and lead to problems.

Managers vs leaders

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that management and leadership are at cross-purposes.

The fact is, people can be and often are both managers and leaders, and that can be a good thing. If you have a “management” job description, you’re probably going to be more effective as a manager if you demonstrate positive leadership skills – the kind that make people want to follow you into the metaphorical battles that take place in the world of business.

Here are some of the differences between managers and leaders, and also between subordinates and followers, along with information on when management is more important than leadership, and vice versa.

Managers Have Subordinates; Leaders Have Followers

Managers have subordinates, and their authority is bestowed on them by someone else in the company. In a purely management situation, transactions take place. The manager tells his or her subordinate which tasks to accomplish, and the subordinate does so because that’s their job. Managers know how to get things done within the constraints of time and resources, and they tend to be more risk-averse than people perceived purely as leaders. But this doesn’t mean managers are ruthless. In fact, most prefer running a motivated and happy group.

A leader (or a manager who is in leadership mode due to circumstances) has followers, and unlike subordinates, followers voluntarily let leaders lead them, even if there’s risk involved. Followers believe that they will not only gain extrinsic rewards from following a particular leader, but that the will be better people for it. This doesn’t necessarily imply that a leader is always a “people person,” but that leaders inspire the kind of loyalty that allows not only transactions, or completion of tasks, but of transformation – making something better.

The Yin and Yang of Management and Leadership

The yin and yang of Chinese philosophy are complementary forces that together create a dynamic unity that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Management and leadership can be thought of as yin and yang. When both elements are present, great things can happen in an organization. For example, while a leader innovates, a manager administers. Without innovation nothing would improve, but without carrying out of processes, ideas remain theoretical.

Leadership versus management

Effectiveness requires knowing when leadership versus management principles should be used.

The leader, with his or her long-range perspective, inspires trust in people. At the same time, the manager, considerate of short-term requirements, knows how to get people to get the actual work done. In other words, while the leader focuses on answers to “what” and “why” questions, the manager focuses on answers to “when” and “how” questions. It’s easy to see how both leadership and management are essential to an organization reaching its potential.

Calling Upon Both Management and Leadership Skills

Many people have management jobs, but are able to get the best results by displaying leadership qualities as well. Focusing on efficiency (as managers do) is necessary, but so is focus on results and purpose. This is truer than ever in today’s business world, where people look to managers not just to assign them a task, but to help them understand the importance of that task. The late Peter Drucker understood that you don’t manage people, but lead them. Ultimately you want to make it so each individual can use their particular strengths and knowledge optimally.

Management or Leadership: Why Not Both?

The best managers have leadership skills, and the best leaders have management skills. Knowing which techniques to employ in which situations is the hallmark of an outstanding manager or leader. It’s important to look at both the short and long term, to understand when the most important thing is to get tasks done and when the most important thing is to step back and understand why they get done. You have to be able to see both the forest and the trees.

I’m available as a Leadership Keynote Speaker or to help in leading business retreats. My goal is to unlock the greatness in everyone in your organization so you can create the organizational culture that gets results and makes the world a better place.


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