Leadership vs Management: Finding The Right Balance

Managers can be leaders and leaders can be managers, but there are significant differences between these two roles. Leaders may or may not have authority, but they always find a way to push people forward – to lead them to where they should go. On the other hand, managers direct their employees on what to […]

Written By Matthew Martin

March 7, 2020

Managers can be leaders and leaders can be managers, but there are significant differences between these two roles. Leaders may or may not have authority, but they always find a way to push people forward – to lead them to where they should go. On the other hand, managers direct their employees on what to do and how to do it.

They keep the business running like a well-oiled machine. Let’s talk about leadership vs management, and how you can combine the best of both worlds for the sake of your business.

Characteristics of a Leader

Leaders showcase and share their vision to inspire the people around them. They’re driven by passion. They don’t mind a bit of chaos and a lack of structure. Leaders tend to:

  • Change the expectations and moods of customers
  • Delay solving a problem so they can better understand its causes
  • Pay attention to ethical behavior
  • Set goals based on desires
  • Understand and visualize the purpose and value of work
  • Use empathy and intuition to relate to people

Characteristics of a Manager

Managers protect the structure of an organization. They control how the workplace runs and they strike the correct balance of power. They believe in persistence and hard work – in rolling up their sleeves and getting it done. Managers tend to:

  • Build competence in employees
  • Have an analytical mind
  • Look for control and stability
  • Resolve problems fast (even if they don’t understand the significance of a problem)
  • Set goals based on the company’s culture and history
  • Take a tactical approach to get work done in a timely manner

Leadership vs Management: The Main Differences

Leadership is what pushes a company forward to reach goals and succeed, and management is what keeps a company running like a machine. You need both roles filled, and knowing the distinct differences between them will help you get the balance right.


The biggest difference between leadership vs management is motivation, which is best illustrated in how each type of person sets goals. Leaders set goals based on shaping ideas instead of reacting to demand. Managers set more straightforward and practical goals based on history and forecasting.

A leader may set a goal to create or enhance a product that will meet the needs of customers, even if customers don’t realize they have those needs yet. This type of goal is less predictable and reliable than a manger’s goal, but the risk means there’s potential for huge growth.

A manager may set a goal to have a certain amount of products available in a specific store by a set date in order to meet customer demand. This type of goal may not perform as well as a riskier goal that takes off, but the tried-and-true approach can mean guaranteed cashflow.


Leaders purposely seek out risk and danger, while managers work hard to minimize risk. Leaders prefer growing pains to stagnancy or tradition, especially if a potential reward is on the other side. Managers don’t see anything more than the danger that comes with risk – they don’t notice the opportunities like leaders do. That’s not to say that managers are worse than leaders; companies need to balance risk and reliability to grow in a sustainable way.

Work Tasks

Leaders are often more creative than straightforward managers. Leadership takes an imaginative approach rather than a clinical one. Managers have an easier time handling mundane work, like administrative tasks and analytical tasks than leaders; leaders can almost seem allergic to that type of work.


There are different types of influence when it comes to leadership vs management. A leader can influence what a customer wants by coming up with novel ideas and solutions. They wait to see how audiences respond, and if they respond well, they dig deeper to round out the options and deliver what’s best for the customer.

The type of influence a manager has is more manipulative (though not in a bad way). They can influence the decisions people make by framing the choices to point to the correct one. Managers are able to subconsciously steer people – employees or customers – to make the choice the manager wants them to make.

For example, when you want to buy software, you’ll choose from tiered packages. The middle package is usually highlighted in some way. The customer loves it because it offers the best value for their money. It’s also the best option for the company. The cost is higher than the cheapest package and subscribers are more likely to stick with it than the pricier option. The customer thinks they’re making the choice, but the company led them straight to it.

How to Combine Leadership and Management in a Company

It’s not necessarily leaders who climb the ranks to become managers – the succession of power doesn’t always coincide with who’s a good leader. In that way, you can have leaders who don’t move up in their career and high-level managers who aren’t skilled at leading. That’s okay, so long as you have both roles filled at a company and if leaders are given a lot of freedom to make a difference. Here’s how to build a company that has equal parts of leadership and management.

Offer the Proper Training for Leadership vs Management

Since management relies so much on structure, process and doing things a certain way, it’s a lot easier to train someone to be a manager than to be a leader. Leadership is more innate than management. It’s possible to teach and enhance some aspects of leadership, but, for the most part, people are inherently leaders (or not), and they may not even know how skilled they are at leadership until they see how they naturally influence others. That said, leadership skills can develop over time through experience and practice, and even through purposeful self-development, like taking leadership training courses.

Clarify Each Employee’s Purpose

After (or before) telling employees what’s expected of them and teaching them how to do it, explain why they’re carrying out certain functions. What is the purpose of their role? What are they adding to the company?

Show that Progress is Always the Goal

You can illustrate that continued progress is the company’s main goal when the business is doing well and even when something’s gone wrong. For example, once goals are reached for the quarter, come up with new goals to work on until it’s time to start on the next quarter’s regular goals. Or, maybe something has failed. Managers are excellent at taking the next realistic step forward, but also ask yourself and the team what that failure’s learning lessons are.

Create an Accepting Work Environment

In an open work atmosphere, employees feel like it’s okay to approach higher-ups with different ideas. They may have discovered a way to do their job better or they could have a suggestion for improving a process. Or, they may question why certain rules are in place, in which case management should consider whether a rule should be hard-and-fast or a more flexible guideline.

Set Up a System for Applying New Ideas

Simply gathering ideas isn’t enough. There should be a process for adding new ideas to the mix, one or two at a time that go through a trial basis before becoming a permanent part of processes. Risks should be taken, even if they’re taken in measured amounts while the rest of the company runs as usual.

Rethink Leadership vs Management Communication Styles

A manager tells an employee they did a great job by saying, “Great job.” A leader adds more personalization and emotion. For example, “Fantastic job! I can always count on you to come through.” Before sending off an email, take an extra minute to quickly revise it and warm it up.

How Leaders Can Influence Management Without Overstepping Boundaries

Typically, leaders don’t care about control and organization, but managers do. Managers can feel threatened by leaders – even leaders who can positively impact the business – because disorder is bound to follow. Managers may also feel that their level of authority is being challenged when really it’s just their approach or idea that’s being challenged.

While leaders focus on risk and change, that has to be properly communicated to management so approval can be given to move forward. The potential outcome can be framed in a way that the manager can understand and analyze. For example, a leader may say, “If we try XYZ, there’s a possibility we’ll see this percentage of growth. Here’s an example of a competitor that did something similar and how they benefited.”

Final Thoughts on Leadership vs Management

While logic and strategy are necessary, creativity and inventiveness may be considered more important, and they should be allowed to be stoked and to grow. At the same time, a company that is solely run by creativity and imagination won’t have the structure needed for analysis and operations. When you’re able to have leaders and managers working together, you’ll increase productivity, improve communication, develop better relationships and boost the workplace overall.


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