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Leadership and Management: What’s the Difference?

Thursday, May 4, 2023 - Prophit Co.

Many people view managing and leading as one in the same. However, they are actually quite different. In the most simplified version, leading is about people, and managing is about tasks. Leaders inspire and get people on board to follow their vision. Managers have employees who work for them and ensure that day-to-day tasks are accomplished.

A study of eight leaders conducted by John O’Leary looked at this assertion on a deeper level. The leaders agreed that the two concepts were separate, and provided O’Leary with insights into where they thought the differences could be found. The group of leaders had a common understanding on a few topics. For example, they distinguished between the types of delegation used by leaders and managers. Managers delegate to increase efficiency on tasks, while leaders delegate to empower subordinates. In another example, they shared that they view managers as more focused on themselves and on results, whereas leaders place more of their focus on the development of others (O’Leary).

Using these findings and others, O’Leary concludes that the main difference between leaders and managers is where they place their focus. In a 2013 article posted to Harvard Business Review, Vineet Nayar gives a succinct explanation of this idea. He writes, “Management consists of controlling a group or a set of entities to accomplish a goal. Leadership refers to an individual’s ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organizational success.” As such, a leader and a manager fulfill a fundamentally different role within an organization. Dee Brown elaborates on the subject with some examples. A leader might focus on establishing a broad strategic direction for a company and making sure that everyone is aligned and motivated to see it through. Meanwhile, a manager would focus on training, evaluating, and building efficiencies within their team to achieve individual goals as a part of that strategic direction (Brown).

O’Leary also concludes that there is a lot of overlap between the two skillsets required to be a good leader or a good manager (O’Leary). Effective leaders usually have an understanding of best practices in management, and efficient managers often know how to guide the people within their teams effectively in matters unrelated to tasks. As such, leaders should dedicate time to understanding the complexities and inner works of being a manager. Similarly, a manager can benefit from learning the skills needed to be a good leader. Both can benefit from learning about the other.


Brown, Dee (2022). “Management and Leadership: Two Critical Roles That Are Not Synonymous” [Article]. 12 May 2022. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2022/05/12/management-and-leadership-two-critical-roles-that-are-not-synonymous/ [Accessed April 10, 2023]

Nayar, Vineet (2013). “Three Differences Between Managers and Leaders” [Article]. 2 August 2013. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2013/08/tests-of-a-leadership-transiti [Accessed April 10, 2023]

O’Leary, John (2016). “Do Managers and Leaders Really Do Different Things?” [Article]. 20 June 2016. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/06/do-managers-and-leaders-really-do-different-things [Accessed April 10, 2023]


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