Leadership vs. Management

Management skills are a subset of leadership skills. I’ve often heard people try to separate them by saying that they are leaders, but not managers. In my experience, the people who say this are generally failures when it comes to attracting followers, which makes it difficult to consider them successful leaders.

A leader is someone who knows where to go. Management skills are how they actually get there. A college student who gets a bunch of friends together to take a weekend trip skiing is acting not only as a leader, but also as a manager. The student must take into account how much gas they have in their car, how much lift tickets are going to cost, invite people who have a reasonable chance of getting along with each other, etc.

Someone who is trying to act as a leader, but wants nothing to do with management, is like a 7 year old who has found the keys to the family car and is overcome with the desire to drive to Disney World. Vision, a goal, and a sense of purpose are all present, but the ability to plan and execute is lacking.

I once worked for someone who wanted to lead, but not manage. They tried to explain this by saying that they were “a visionary”. I suppose that they meant they came up with the ideas and other people executed them, but a quick trip to the dictionary revealed:

visionary – noun. One whose ideas or projects are impractical.

That is a pretty good description of someone who wants to lead, but not manage. They may have wonderful ideas, but without the ability to plan and oversee the necessary work, their ideas are not going to be realized–at least not by them. If their ideas are implemented, it will be done by another leader who embraces the management function.

While management is an important part of leadership, the reverse is not necessarily true. There are many people who are very skilled at implementing someone else’s vision who are not leaders. The fact that these people exist can make some leaders feel justified in abdicating their responsibility to manage.

In its simplest form, management is the process of defining and measuring success. (See these management quotes for other perspectives on management.) The leader who attempts to pass these responsibilities off to a different individual is unlikely to achieve 100% alignment between their vision and the actual work done by the organization. This doesn’t mean that the organization will necessarily be ineffective, but if only 80% of the work being done is actually aligned with the vision, there is going to be a decrease in productivity overall.

A leader who sets the vision, defines success, and determines the measurements of success will be more effective than the same leader who wants to set the vision, but refuses to undertake any work in the management area.


  1. Binda Kebohula says

    No, I think leadership is a subset of management because the definition of management itself indicates that directing or leading is a function of management.

  2. Shandi says

    This makes a lot of sense. I see supervising managers “manage” people all the time and it just doesn’t work. People are not a means to and end, first, and second, people cannot be forced to do anything they don’t want to do, and if you threaten them the work won’t be good. They have to want to follow you. Managers aren’t necessarily leaders, but the good ones are.

  3. says

    I agree with Mark – Management is a subset of Leadership – necessary but not sufficient. Whilst management includes “directing others” too often managers cannot lead effectively …

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