Leadership and Management: Are They Different?
Updated: Aug 24
[Note: This post was updated March 2021 for freshness & clarity.]
Northouse (2013) wrote that leadership and management are similar in many ways. Both involve influencing, achieving goals, and working with people. However, while they may share some similarities, there are distinct and important differences. Northouse said the study of leadership goes as far back as the times of Aristotle, while the concept of management came about “around the turn of the 20th century with the advent of our industrialized society” (2013, p. 12).
In this article, I will first include quotes in support of the notion that leadership and management are similar. I will then follow with quotes and passages in support of the notion that leadership and management are different.
Manager And Leader – One And The Same
Mintzberg (1990) defined a manager and a leader as one and the same. Mintzberg considered a manager “the person in charge of the organization or one of its subunits” (1990, p. 164). In his HBR article (which originally appeared in Harvard Business Review in 1975), he referred to CEOs as managers. Managers include “foremen, factory supervisors, staff managers, field sales managers, hospital administrators, presidents of companies and nations…” (p. 164). Mintzberg maintained that managers are vested with authority over an organizational unit and from this authority comes status, which then leads to interpersonal relations and access to information. And, it is information that allows a manager to make decisions and develop strategies.
Manager And Leader – Not Synonymous
“Leaders manage and managers lead, but the two activities are not synonymous . . . [M]anagement functions can potentially provide leadership; [L]eadership activities can contribute to managing. Nevertheless, some managers do not lead, and some leaders do not manage” (Bass, 1990, p. 383).
“Leadership is path-finding; management is path-following. Leaders do the right things; managers do things right. Leaders develop; managers maintain. Leaders ask what and why; managers ask how and when. Leaders originate; managers imitate. Leaders challenge the status quo; managers accept it . . . Leadership is concerned with constructive or adaptive change, establishing and changing direction, aligning people, and inspiring and motivating people . . . They set the direction for organizations. They articulate a collective vision . . . They sacrifice and take risks to further the vision” (Bass, 2008, p. 654).
“Managers plan, organize, and arrange systems of administration and control. They hold positions of formal authority. Their position provides them with reward, disciplinary, or coercive power to influence and obtain compliance from subordinates. The subordinates follow directions from the manager and accept the manager’s authority as long as the manager has the legitimate power to maintain compliance—or the subordinates follow out of habit or deference to other powers of the leader. Management is concerned with consistency and order, details, timetables, and the marshaling of resources to achieve results. It plans, budgets, and allocates staff to fulfill plans” (Bass, 2008, p. 654).
Good Leader ≠ Good Manager, Good Manager ≠ Good Leader
Here’s an example that illustrates the difference:
A good leader (e.g., CEO of a software company) may not be someone technically proficient in guiding a software developer through a complex job. That job belongs to a competent manager. And, a good manager may be good at managing the day-to-day duties in the factory or office, but lacks the vision required of a great leader to strategically guide an organization.
Different Concepts That Overlap
Northouse (2013) said:
“Although there are clear differences between management and leadership, the two constructs overlap. When managers are involved in influencing a group to meet its goals, they are involved in leadership. When leaders are involved in planning, organizing, staffing, and controlling, they are involved in management. Both processes involve influencing a group of individuals toward goal attainment” (p. 14).
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D. Organizational & Leadership Development Leader
Bass, B. M. (1990). Bass & Stogdill’s handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications (3rd ed.). New York: The Free Press.
Bass, B. M. (2008). The Bass handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications (4th ed.). New York: Free Press.
Mintzberg, H. (1990). The manager’s job: Folklore and fact. Harvard Business Review, 68(2), 163-176.
Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.