Leadership and Management: What's the Difference?

November 1, 2020

Too often we confuse leadership and management as synonyms, with the same meanings and successes. In actuality, they are two different styles of leadership in the workplace. Many of us have fantasised about reaching management level in our careers, but how many of us have thought about what sort of managers we would like to be?

What are the key differences between leadership and management?

Management in the traditional sense is often heavily concerned with responsibilities for things (i.e, budgets, strategies, IT, etc), and how to mobilise teams to ensure objectives are met. These responsibilities often fall into the command and control structure, where a manager tells their subordinates what to do, how to do it and when to do it. In addition, management and employee relationships are rooted in the innate need to achieve team objectives. Each employee’s personal development, cognitive diversity and empowerment are often pushed to the side with this style of management.

Not all managers are leaders. Too often, employees follow instructions because they are obligated to, not because they feel a sense of motivation or alignment with the company’s purpose or objectives. For a business model, certain areas of this traditional approach to management do work effectively. However, are we positively empowering our teams and curating effective leaders?

Leadership, on the other hand, doesn’t obey the traditional structures we are used to in the workplace. To be a leader, you do not necessarily need to hold a managerial position or be a figure of authority. Quite simply, a leader can be anyone and lead anyone.

Leaders do not merely tell you what to do or keep stock of what tasks have been completed. They are able to create environments and relationships that allow others to believe in their vision by means of motivation, inspiration and the ability to align people to a common cause. There doesn’t always have to be a tangible or formal structure of power - effective, constructive guidance is sometimes all you need.

Why is leadership important in management?

Leadership is vital to maximising efficiency in the workplace, but also to demonstrating a collective effort to achieve both company and personal goals. For efficiency, this works well in the sense that employees buy into the work they have to complete, and are more willing to complete tasks with an understanding that they’re working towards a common goal. Leadership also adds an extra layer of investment that works two ways:

1)      Investment in company objectives and success

2)      Investment in employee objectives and success

Simply telling employees what to do may initially get work done, but quite often does not establish a healthy, positive and equal working culture. This often leads to poor performance, lack of care, and poor staff retention. This model of management also fosters feelings of paranoia, such as worrying that poor performance may lead to termination of an employee’s contract. This level of discomfort in a workplace, especially in a workplace where employees are not aligned, diminishes productivity and loyalty to a company, its objectives - or both.

Leadership skills deficits in the UK

It’s so easy to get caught up in quotas, targets, and daily tasks that we can forget to positively mobilise a team. This is not limited to those in management positions - this can extend to team members, too. The innate need for employees to achieve and only achieve creates a negative work environment, as well as an imbalance between employees and employers.

With this approach, there is little room for mistakes, human error, or investment in anything other than work. Not because employees have a common goal, but because they all share an understanding or fear that achievement is all they are there for.  Employees are often expected to suspend their own development for the company’s - but leadership introduces a mutual exchange between employees and employers.

With an inspirational leader, employees are not only able to achieve their targets because they have to, they achieve them because they want to. An effective leader is able to introduce a focused vision, an established direction and guidance for their employees. Essentially, a leader needs to be able to effectively communicate at multiple levels and to persuade employees to move away from an “I” to a “WE” working dynamic and understanding. 

The leadership mindset

It is important to remember that a leader can be anyone. We often get bogged down with our ideas of management and the sense of elitism that can often be attached to this. However, with a few tweaks to our mindsets and approach, we can all be leaders, too.

Donning a sense of inclusivity, patience and understanding will get you far as a leader. So what does this look like practically? Well:

  1. Inclusivity is the ability to communicate openly and effectively with employees at all levels. This creates a sense of common understanding and builds the relationships needed to align employees to a common goal.
  2. Leaders should show patience with not only their approach to work and targets, but also with themselves. Withholding from giving answers and adopting skills that allow your employees to be able reach conclusions independently builds trust between both parties, and empowers your employees.
  3. Understanding and adopting the balance between management and leadership will curate successful relationships, an inclusive approach to ways of working and a positive work environment. 


There are clear differences between leadership and management skills. To be a successful leader, a balance between both needs to be achieved. Applying leadership skills does not need to wait until you acquire a formal leadership role - they can be applied anywhere, to anyone, by anyone.