Which are you: a leader, or a manager?

We often use the two terms interchangeably, but they aren’t the same. In the world of business, companies thrive when they harness the perfect combination of leadership and management talent. But here’s a little-known secret: the most successful executive and entrepreneurs possess both.

Knowing the difference between leadership versus management can help you flourish in either role. And, with a bit of dedication, you can nurture both skills in tandem.

What’s leadership?

Leaders are often remembered for their vision. Think of Nelson Mandela, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Malala Yousafza — all shared their views of the world and brought about transformational change.

This same philosophy applies in the business realm. Leaders concern themselves with their organization’s future, focusing on the big picture. They’re the driving forces behind positive, non-incremental change, and they guide that transformation by communicating their vision to inspire others to make it a reality.

Leadership doesn’t restrict itself to a job title. Anyone within a company who takes the initiative, invests in themselves, and motivates those around them to bring organizational goals to life is a leader.

Because leadership contributes more to culture than concrete outcomes, it can be challenging to define success. But, in simple terms, an effective leader contributes to a positive, welcoming workplace and builds relationships based on trust. High levels of employee engagement, retention rates, and team performance all indicate that a strong leader is working behind the scenes.

Important leadership qualities

Good leaders go beyond visualizing the path to their company’s goals — they understand what it takes and work in the trenches themselves. And their example inspires teammates and stakeholders to join them on their journey.

Excellent leaders employ these skills to take them where they want to go:

1. Creativity

Leaders aren’t happy maintaining the status quo — they think outside the box, hungry for positive change. They innovate and motivate others to do the same.

2. Problem-solving

Business is always fraught with challenges, and it takes a dedicated eye to view these issues through strategic and conceptual lenses. Leaders recognize anything that stands in the way of meeting the organization’s goals and identify the steps needed to overcome these roadblocks.

3. Risk-taking

Leaders recognize that growth isn’t possible without risk. In their quest to create positive change, they’re willing to shoulder the burden themselves and support others when they take a chance.

4. Motivation

Success isn't possible without enthusiasm and energy. Leaders motivate their teams to look beyond simply meeting their objectives, inspiring them to strive to exceed them.

5. Mentorship

A leader doesn’t only focus on the growth potential of their organization. They’re also invested in developing their team’s skills and capabilities by offering coaching, guidance, and advice.

What’s management?

While leaders focus mainly on the future of their organization, managers take care of the here and now. Their focus is operational, executing the four management functions supporting their team’s day-to-day activities:

  • Planning: action plans to meet organizational goals.
  • Organizing: Determining how and when a project will be executed (and by whom).
  • Leading: Influencing reports to complete tasks according to established standards.
  • Controlling: Monitoring performance and progress.

Managers provide clarity, feedback, and assistance so their teams can successfully execute their leader’s vision and bring it to life.

Effective management empowers a team to meet organizational targets by offering clear goals and expectations, establishing efficient processes, and delegating tasks effectively. Combined with key performance indicators (KPIs) — such as sales results, customer satisfaction ratings, and productivity rates — these results provide insight into managerial competency.

Essential management skills

A leader may point a company in the right direction, but the manager is the one to read the map and ensure the group has everything needed to get it there in one piece. They’re the backbone of any organization, offering support and structure to their subordinates so everyone can do their job successfully.

The skills managers leverage include:

1. Project management

Managers are responsible for executing leaders’ initiatives, so they need to be adept at project planning and organization. They guide the team by:

  • Assigning tasks
  • Setting priorities
  • Managing expectations
  • Budgeting
  • Establishing timelines
  • Troubleshooting potential risks
  • Creating contingency plans

2. Problem-solving

Problem-solving as a management skill versus leadership skill is very different. Leaders address organizational issues, while managers work to solve problems preventing their team from meeting their objectives. Problem-solving in a management role could mean rethinking business processes or adjusting priorities.

3. Delegation

Delegating responsibility isn’t just about handing off work. A manager needs to be thoroughly acquainted with each team member’s skillset so assignments go to the best person for each job.

4. Feedback

Managers are uniquely positioned to identify a worker’s strengths and opportunities for improvement. It’s their job to provide team members with clear, relevant, and actionable feedback so they can learn and grow. Excellent managers go one step further: they coach those working for them so opportunities for improvement result in new strengths.

5. Development

In addition to coaching, managers also support their team member's professional development by offering insight into each employee's career path, advising them on skill development, and providing “stretch” opportunities to grow beyond their defined responsibilities.

6. Teamwork

Good managers encourage collaboration by creating opportunities for individuals to connect and become familiar with each other’s skills. Over time, workers become more comfortable with one another and develop a productive interdependence that generates results.

Leadership versus management: 4 key differences

There are many parallels between leader and managerial roles — often, you’ll find opportunities for leadership in management positions. To truly see the distinction between the two, let’s review the differences between leadership and management at the organizational level:

1. Execution versus vision

Remember: leaders focus on creating an organizational vision by identifying opportunities, thinking ahead, and guiding change. The primary method leaders use to influence change is goal setting.

It’s up to the managers to execute strategies and implement processes to meet those goals through budgeting, task allocation, organizational structuring, and staffing. Their focus is on logistics, whereas a leader hones in on a vision.

2. Administration versus alignment

Another of a leader’s primary roles is to inspire people to rally behind a common cause. They use their influence to generate alignment among their team to execute collective or individual initiatives for the betterment of the organization. Managers focus on accomplishing those initiatives. They organize employees to get the work done through coordinated and tactical processes, tasks, or activities.

In other words, a manager administrates while a leader inspires.

3. Position versus quality

The terms leadership and management aren’t synonymous. You can be a great leader without being a good manager, and vice versa.

Being a manager is a role with a distinct set of responsibilities to fulfill. It’s a position within the hierarchical structure of an organization.

Leadership is a quality developed over time and with practice, and it can appear in any employee. Training and upskilling in emotional intelligence, self-awareness, decision-making, and persuasion can improve job performance and prove essential to establishing a successful managerial style.

4. People versus processes

Both positions are people-facing, but a leader’s focus differs from a manager's.

Leaders work to inspire, motivate, and nurture those they work with. They spend a lot of time seeking to understand employees’ values and needs. Management, on the other hand, is more concerned with overseeing employees to ensure they accomplish the business's objectives so the company can succeed and thrive.

When to lead and when to manage

As you work to improve your organization, there will be situations when you need to lead your team and others that require you to manage. It’s essential to differentiate between the two circumstances so you know which toolkit to dust off and put to work.

Your team needs your leadership:

  • During creative endeavors and team meetings
  • When introducing a new approach to your workplace
  • When employees know their roles, feel confident in their abilities, and perform at peak levels
  • When staff members have earned your trust

Take on a more managerial role when your team:

  • Faces a crisis or an emergency
  • Needs to deliver a specific outcome by a deadline
  • Experiences difficulty with business processes or completing a project
  • Requires training
  • Can assist you via task delegation

Leadership and management are made easier with Tempo

Management and leadership roles are challenging and demanding — but they can be made easier with the right tools.

Use Roadmunk by Tempo to illustrate your vision and generate stakeholder alignment through an easy-to-use, Jira-enabled application that roadmaps transformational change.

And thanks to Tempo's Timesheet Reports and Gadgets applications, managing your team’s workload has never been easier. Tack team members’ work through a customized report and get added insight via Jira time tracking or Tempo Timesheets.