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Difference between leadership and management
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Culture Amp

The employee experience platform

The terms leadership and management are frequently used interchangeably. While the distinction between the two may seem trivial at first glance, there’s a significant difference between them. Understanding this contrast will help you provide better guidance to your teams and be more effective in your role. 

Understanding leadership vs. management

When it comes to understanding the difference between leadership and management, it may be helpful to think of a map. A leader is responsible for choosing a destination and the overall direction, while a manager shares the specific turns you need to make to get from Point A to Point B. Let’s explore this idea more in-depth. 


As you may have deduced from the example above, leadership is about providing a high-level vision for a team. The goal is innovating in a way that helps the organization in the long run. Leaders ask what needs to change and why. From there, leaders guide people in the right direction by providing support, inspiration, and motivation. Along the way, leaders check-in to make sure everyone is aligned and on the right track, but they rarely get involved in the tactical decisions.


On the other hand, management's responsibility is to execute the leader’s vision. Once the destination has been set, managers are the ones who oversee the series of tactics that will get them to where they need to be. This involves assigning team members tasks, ensuring everyone is collaborating harmoniously, and providing the team hits the appropriate deadlines to reach their short-term goals.

Managers  Leaders
Focus on goals Focus on vision 
Ask “how” and “when” Ask “what” and “why”
Provide tasks Provide direction
Create stability Create change 
Think of the short-term Think of the long-term 

Playing both roles

While there’s a clear distinction between the two roles, there are times that the lines will either overlap or be blurred. In other words, certain situations will require managers to step up into more of a leadership role, while others will need leaders to take on more of a managerial role. Below are a few examples of when this may be required.  

Managers as leaders: 

  • When overseeing a particularly large team
  • In the absence of or during a transition of a team leader
  • When providing mentorship to team members and other employees

Leaders as managers: 

  • When taking on a direct report
  • In the absence of or during a transition of a key manager
  • When working with managers or direct reports who need additional support or more specific guidance

Why the distinction between leaders and managers is important 

Both leadership and management are essential to have in every organization. Without leadership, teams would be directionless and not be united on a vision. Without management, teams wouldn’t be able to take actionable steps or complete the goals they need to achieve their vision.

Now, let's look at some real-life scenarios to see these roles in action. 

Scenario #1

Your organization recently went through an acquisition. While exciting, the transition is causing some friction and employee morale is low. This is the right time to practice leadership. Since most of the problem stems from a lack of clarity around the shift and future direction of the company, it may be helpful to sit down with the team and explain your thinking, the type of change you intend to create, and how the company will move forward together through this transition.

Scenario #2

On the other hand, imagine you’re confronted with a massive project with many moving parts and a tight deadline. In this situation, you may want to put on your managerial hat. Doing so will enable you to set goals, effectively assign tasks to your team, and ensure everyone is laser-focused until the project is completed.  

There's a time for everything

Regardless of your title or position, we believe there’s room to practice management and leadership skills depending on the situation. However, it’s important to note that – in general – the higher you move up in an organization, the more your role will focus on the leadership aspects than the managerial aspects. As long as you’re prepared for this eventual transition and still trust your managers to achieve your vision, you’ll be set up for success.

By understanding the distinction between leadership and management, you’ll be able to choose the right hat to wear depending on your team’s current needs. If you need more help developing these skills – particularly for leadership – one-on-one coaching can be a valuable tool to help you hone in on the areas that you most need improvement. 

What’s next

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