Difference between leaders and managers

May 5, 2014 by Paul Ferdais

It is common to hear the terms management and leadership used interchangeably, as though they mean the same thing.


Let’s crush that myth right now: leadership and management are not the same things. Both are critical to success as a leader, so an understanding of each term is essential.


Leadership is the ability to successfully influence people to achieve results and goals through vision, mission and purpose. Leadership deals with people. It focuses on alignment of individuals toward a common goal and inspiration for every follower.


Leaders create a sense of purpose and meaning in the work followers do. Leaders exhibit enthusiasm and establish an environment that brings out the best in people.


At its most basic level, leadership requires an understanding of broad social tools: communication, engagement, organizational culture and self-awareness. Influence is the core component of leadership, and it is through influence that a leader creates loyalty and buy-in from followers.


Management, on the other hand, is a set of processes that keeps an organization running. It is the controlling, planning, organizing, monitoring, tracking and directing of resources. In short, it’s about stuff: schedules, inventory, timelines and other things that can be systemized.


Authority is the core component of management, and it is often the cause of workplace issues. Managers think their authority creates unquestioning obedience from their crew. Because of this expectation of obedience, a manager may perform their job perfectly but never develop loyalty from subordinates. Trust, loyalty and respect are all behaviors that must be earned, not demanded or commanded from employees.


Because “stuff” is straightforward, leaders and managers run into trouble when they try to apply the same concepts of control on people as they do with things. Unlike inanimate objects, people have thoughts of their own and balk at being treated like stuff. People cannot be controlled the same way “stuff” can be.


People are more complex than equipment, but this difference is often overlooked when planning takes place or systems are created. Widgets do not walk off the boat at the end of the day with the expectation they will walk back on the following morning. The challenge created when leadership and management are considered the same thing is that people are commonly only seen as resources, or cogs in a large machine.


The following describes some differences between a leader and manager:

A leader has vision, creates purpose, influences others, focuses on people, inspires trust, understands the big picture, has superior listening skills, challenges the status quo by asking “why” and “what can be improved”, looks for opportunities to develop strengths, and develops others into leaders.


A manager administers, maintains the status quo, creates systems and procedures, focuses on control and structure, follows the plan, asks questions such as “how” or “when”, sees people as part of the machine, expects obedience, and generally avoids risk.


Reflecting on these descriptions should make it clear they are different activities. One concept deals with people and the other deals with things. Unfortunately, the paradigm of good management being seen as leadership holds strong today.


After examining the differences between the two, we need to bring them together. We do this because leadership and management are interconnected, two sides to the same coin. Leaders who do not manage will not know what is going on around them; a manager who does not lead will have followers who do not know where they are going.


Leaders need to both lead and manage at the same time. As a manager of things, you will get results through organizing, controlling and systemizing. As a leader of people, creating engagement and displaying enthusiasm will bring out the best in followers. Create and share your vision to get buy-in.


Supervisors who do not take the time to understand the difference between leadership and management will have high crew turnover, low crew morale and no loyalty. For those supervisors, it’s a mistake to think that they are only managing a team. They’re actually leading as well.


Paul Ferdais is founder and owner of The Marine Leadership Group based in Ft. Lauderdale and Vancouver (www.marineleadershipgroup.com). He has a master’s degree in leadership and spent seven years working as a deckhand, mate and first officer on yachts. Comments are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.