Leadership vs. management

Are all leaders managers? And are all managers leaders? Not necessarily. While most leaders hold management positions, and although we often use the terms interchangeably, leadership and management aren’t the same.

Companies need leaders and managers to succeed, and one role isn't necessarily better or more important. But it's helpful to understand the different mindsets and responsibilities associated with leadership and management to make the most of your responsibilities.

The main difference between leadership and management is that leaders focus on bigger-picture issues and forward-focused goals, while managers implement plans and projects. Leaders are vision-oriented, while managers are detail-oriented. Managers create systems and processes for work to get done, and leaders are responsible for getting employees to buy into those systems. Managers can get things done and ensure their employees are on task, but leaders inspire people to work together to reach a shared goal. According to experts, “A good leader needs to be a good manager, but not all managers are good leaders.”

Nick Schneider, CEO of Arctic Wolf, says leadership involves engaging employees, establishing trust, and guiding the organization to achieve its mission. He puts it this way: “The role of a leader is not necessarily to be the most popular person in the room; it's to make the decision that they feel is best for the organization as a whole.”

Key Characteristics of Leaders

Leaders must be agile and responsive, especially as industries evolve and customer demands change. Leaders set the vision and establish the tone for their company. They are responsible for showcasing how work gets done and demonstrating the company's mindsets and culture.

Critical characteristics of leaders include:

  • Inspiring and motivating other people to achieve goals
  • Creating a mission or vision that teams will follow
  • Communicating effectively and transparently
  • Making key business decisions to reach a goal
  • Establishing trust and building a strong culture

Key Characteristics of Managers

Managers are more focused on the day-to-day tasks of a team or organization. Their tasks are more linear and focus on moving the needle. Managers may be more in the weeds than leaders, but they also play a critical role in creating change and progress from the bottom up.

Key characteristics of managers include:

  • Planning projects and budgets
  • Organizing teams and assigning tasks to get the most out of people
  • Coordinating team responsibilities
  • Measuring team progress and tracking success against goals or budgets
  • Facilitating programs to reach company goals

Leaders and managers are different but must work together. Organizations need leaders to find creative solutions and establish a vision to succeed, but they also need managers to make those plans a reality. A leader can hold both roles and be responsible for establishing the big-picture vision and monitoring the daily tasks to reach it.

While managers and leaders might not always agree on the best way to get work done, they must be aligned to a shared vision for the best interest of the company and its employees and customers. Every person in the company, from managers and leaders to entry-level employees, plays a crucial role in reaching goals and building a strong culture.

Written by

Michelle Kaiser
Michelle Kaiser

Senior Editor | CEO.com

Daily Newsletter

For Leaders

Subscribe to the newsletter read by the world's most influential CEOs.