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Last updated: 28.03.18

The Difference Between Management and Leadership

Whether you’re just starting out on your career path, you already have a lot of experience, or you’re looking to further yourself, you’ll have come across plenty of job descriptions asking for leadership qualities or management skills. After all, they’re essential to any business. The problem is that many people don’t realise that there are clear differences between managers and leaders, which means that the job roles can be quite different too.

Naturally, there will be a lot of overlap and many job descriptions will actually be calling for a combination of both, but it’s important to understand the distinction. After all, you want to be applying for jobs that you have the skills for, and it’s easy to confuse the two. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the main separators between leadership and management.

The difference between the two terms is perhaps well explained with a football analogy. It’s the manager that chooses the team, their formation and tactics in order to work towards the goal of winning the match. Every step of the way, the manager is there to fine tune things.

However, it’s the captain, who acts as a leader that inspires the team to perform better. They aren’t there to micromanage or tell everyone else exactly how they’re to play. Naturally there are often overlaps, and some managers and captains will work differently, but it’s a good overview of how the two terms usually differ when referred to in the corporate world.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the key differences between management and leadership.

Change versus maintenance

One of the biggest differences between the two schools is that leaders are generally relied upon to drive change as part of their vision for the direction the organisation is headed, whereas managers usually maintain the status quo. It’s important to have both of these qualities within an organisation – neither will work effectively without the other. This major difference is perhaps the one that impacts other differences.

Risk versus risk management

Leaders are more focussed on change and development for the future, they’re naturally going to be open to a little more risk than managers. They might try out new things and have faith in their own developing skills and knowledge. Managers are there to ensure that the business works with the defined processes and structures, which will have been put in place to reduce risk.

Inspiration versus direction

Generally, leaders don’t have a defined set of people that they’re responsible for looking after in the day-to-day operations of the business. Instead, their actions should inspire others to do better in their own job, and find better ways of working. Managers on the other had will have a very clear team that they’re responsible for, and it’s up to them to direct each member of the team to work in accordance with already agreed standards.

Long-term versus short-term

We’ve already mentioned how leaders tend to be aiming for a goal and have a vision in mind that’s beyond what the organisation is already doing. This means that they’re also going to be far more focussed on the long-term. Smaller events aren’t as important if they lead somewhere in the future. Managers on the other hand are more concerned with short-term issues and goals that ensure things run smoothly day-to-day.

In summary

It’s very important to understand that when it comes to the two terms, neither is ‘better’. Leaders are often put on a pedestal because of the style of their job, but that certainly doesn’t mean that managers aren’t essential to most businesses. This is why management skills are highly valued, and why many job hunters can boost their CV by including any management skills they have. In addition, there are many courses that you can take to help build up your skills in this area.

Virtual College offers a number of courses pertaining to various areas of management, ranging from HR to line management. Click here to see all our online management courses.