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If you ask people about the differences between leaders and managers, there’s a remarkable consistency of response .  People know the differences intuitively. John Kotter has studied the differences between management & leadership extensively and his research unpins this summary: ‘Leaders ‘v’ Managers, the differences’.

The famous Scottish-American industrialists and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was certainly a leader with vision. He was less known for his amazing eye for detail his own subject matter expertise, and his ability to get the most out of other experts.

Leaders and managers are both result oriented, both must delegate effectively, and both are essential to the effective running an organisation. Broadly speaking though the differences can be summarised as follows:

Managers fix problem and maintain

Managers are concerned with solving complex problems to keep things on track. They are task oriented and concerned with the technical  aspects of the job. Develop skills in planning, prioritising budgeting, organising, practical implementation and meeting deadlines is vital for sucess as a manager. Managers understand the tools and techniques of quality.

"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things", Peter Drucker

Managers’  focus is on the immediate and on the current business cycle. They tend to base their authority of their subject matter expertise but this leads to under delegation of matters within their own expertise and over delegating matters that don’t interest them. A typical management trait is the ability to maintain the status quo.

Leadership 'v' Management, the differences
Leadership ‘v’ Management, the differences

Leaders are concerned about change.

Leaders primarily focus on a vision for the future and how to take people and the organisation with them.

They focus on the human aspects, the processes and the underlying principles of the business. They develop skills of organisational scanning. They seek information widely rather than deeply and foster the strategic approach. The develop high-level conceptual skills, personal values and good interpersonal skills and tend to constantly learn and develop.  Leaders tend to focus on long-term opportunities and the future needs of the business.  The focus on themselves and resolve tensions and personal issues within themselves.

Leaders have high self-esteem a deep confidence and an ability to articulate what they believe to be important.  They deploy power and influence well. Leaders tend to base their authority on getting results from people who have greater expertise than they have. They develop staff and seek to constantly delegate to free up their time to develop the business, improve performance and tackle the competition.  Leaders tend to be good at challenging the status quo. They are highly visible and therefore vulnerable  and they act as role models for their beliefs.

It is important to acknowledge that in today’s modern organisation, management and  leadership activities need to be done by  everyone.  Organisations can’t thrive without both sets of behaviours and if employees want a stake in the future success of an organisation they probably need to develop both sets of skills.

Published by Pete Wilson

Pete has worked in the technology and business change space for over 30 years. He's worked globally for large public sector and governmental bodies and for large private sector multinationals across numerous industry sectors.

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  1. Pete,

    Great post and succinctly articulates the difference between leadership and management which continues to confuse many who cannot make the distinction. This captures is well.


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