Managing vs. Leading - What's the Difference?
Managing vs. Leading - What's the Difference?

Managing vs. Leading -  What's the Difference?

Leadership Development, Company Culture, Employee Well-being   — 3 MIN


Are you a leader? A manager? Both? Neither?

Some think managing and leading are the same. If you are managing people, are you also leading them? Maybe, but maybe not. Others think management should not be in our vocabulary - we should all be leaders. But like a recipe, more than one spice is needed to make it delicious; leadership and management can be the salt to the other’s pepper.

What is Management?

Managers focus on ensuring tasks are complete. They oversee situations, things, or people. Management keeps their eyes on measurable daily tasks so they can be ready to reassess and tweak results to achieve maximum productivity and improve outputs.

Great managers tend to:

  • Coordinate
  • Plan
  • Optimize
  • Organize
  • Execute

What is Leadership?

Leadership is helping others achieve an agreed-upon goal. Great leaders focus on building and keeping talented teams, and to do that they:

  • Motivate
  • Encourage
  • Innovate
  • Inspire
  • Create

In his bestselling book, On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis described the differences between leaders and managers. Here are a few of his observations:

  • The manager administers. The leader innovates.
  • The manager maintains. The leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure. The leader focuses on people.
  • The manager asks how and when. The leader asks what and why.
  • Managers have their eyes on the bottom line. Leaders have their eyes on the horizon.
  • The manager does things right. The leader does the right thing.

Great managers and leaders both share some commonalities. They listen well, maintain curiosity, and hold themselves accountable for moving the organization forward. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the day-to-day tasks that need to get done and then find you have no time to focus on creating and innovating. Or perhaps, you have swung in the other direction, and you are spending a lot of time on the big picture while the everyday activities are taking a hit. 

Being a leader and a manager requires balancing both. Training consultancy Business Training Works has developed five questions to ask yourself to make sure you balance the two.

  1. Where are you spending your time?
    Make a list of your weekly activities and write down how much time you spend on each. Next to each item, label it either an M for managerial (admin work, meetings, budgets, and operational issues) or an L for leadership (developing your staff, strategizing, hosting one-on-ones). You may be surprised by what you find!
  2. Do you know your team?
    Do you know what your direct reports want from their careers? Their short-, mid-, and long-term goals? Have you thought about their strengths and weaknesses? Are you coaching them to improve? If the answer is no, you may be in management mode. With many employers letting employees choose to work remotely, leaders need to create unique ways to build connections between team members. Try virtual events like murder mysteries, game nights, cooking sessions, or trivia competitions to keep community building within your organization.
  3. Do you ask or tell?
    How do you respond if one of your employees comes to you with a challenge? Instead of giving them a solution, try asking, “Why do you think this is an issue, and what do you suggest we do?” to inspire independence and task ownership. Solving problems for them only causes them to continue to run to you every time there is an issue.
  4. Are you an innovator?
    Do you brainstorm with your team? Challenge them to come up with new ways to do things? Applaud them when they do, even if they do not work out? If not, you are not fostering or allowing creativity and innovation. Without using their brain power, your employees will soon get bored and disengaged.
  5. Are you delegating?
    Some managers do not delegate because they lack faith in their team. But giving up some control might give your employees a new skill, boost self-esteem, and more initiative. Delegation offers short-term losses but long-term rewards. Some believe they are just not leadership material, but that is false. According to the University of Illinois, while approximately 30 percent of leadership comes from genetics, a whopping 70 percent comes from acquired skills and experiences.

According to, you should be managing during the following situations:

  • When there is a crisis or emergency
  • When there are issues involving processes and task management
  • When training new team members
  • When completing work on a deadline

They suggest leading during the following situations:

  • When employees are confident in their abilities and are performing tasks efficiently
  • When you can trust team members to work independently
  • When you are introducing a new approach to a process or task
  • When having creative discussions or team meetings

Overall, employee job satisfaction and feedback can determine whether your leadership style is effective. If your employees are often disengaged, unsatisfied, or not progressing in their careers, your leadership may need tweaking. You can measure management with traditional performance metrics, such as the quantity and quality of output, meeting deadlines, and adhering to budgets. Traditionally, assessing leadership is through employee performance, engagement, and retention.

Like a superhero determining whether they need to use their strength or activate their enhanced senses in a particular situation, you should learn when to use your two superpowers: leading and managing. Strategically balancing both can help your team become more cohesive, perform better, and excel in their careers by learning from you.