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The terms ‘leadership’ and ‘management’ are often used interchangeably in the workplace, however, the two are not mutually exclusive. While it is true that they share similarities, it’s important to remember that there are key differences between the two, and effective guidance comes down to understanding when it’s best to manage, and when it’s best to lead in mid-level and senior positions. 

To give you more insight, we discuss further in this blog.

What is Leadership?

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) define leadership as the “ability to understand people's motivations and leverage them to achieve a shared goal.” Additionally, they state that accomplished leaders “can contribute to positive outcomes for individuals, teams, organisations, and communities”.

Leaders are often skilled people experts and understand the motive and reason as to why an individual may work a certain way or perform best in a specific environment. They set clear direction and inspire and motivate along the way.

What is Management?

Management, on the other hand, is described as how “businesses organise and direct workflow, operations, and employees to meet company goals”.

Managers will often create, implement and manage the structures and processes required to meet shared goals, which includes planning, organising and evaluating.

A manager will use the resources at hand to direct a team of individuals and in turn identify and optimise strengths, weaknesses, productivity levels and morale.

The Difference Between Leadership and Management

  • Leaders will set a vision, define goals and create objectives, a manager will follow this vision and develop the best way to get there.

  • A leader will think ahead and have a futuristic mindset, whereas a manager will focus on the present and the tools and resources at hand.

  • Leaders often inspire and motivate individuals, but it is managers who drive the success.

  • Leaders shape and create culture, while managers endorse it.

  • Leaders think creatively and develop ideas to empower change, whereas managers often think of the execution.

When to Lead and When to Manage

Knowing at what points individuals and teams require management or leadership is vital to a team’s success. When effective management and leadership occur together, teams work collaboratively, cohesively and productively.

You should lead your team when:

Forming or developing a culture

Leaders are futuristic and will set the tone, pace and vision of a business from where it is now to where they want it to be. Culture is not created overnight; however, leaders should be incredibly skilled when it comes to setting standards and forward thinking.

Going through a crisis or period of change

With change comes uncertainty, a potential lack of psychological safety and feelings of worry, but this is where leaders shine. Creating plans of actions and mapping out necessary steps, leaders guide teams through hardship, with their composed and encouraging behaviours.

For example, when the Covid-19 Pandemic hit the UK back in March 2020, McKinsey & Company released a series of articles designed to help leaders steer both the crisis and their recovery. McKinsey & Co knew at this point that leaders would be taking control, displaying behaviours of calm and assurance, as the ones guiding their teams through the turmoil.

Creating new goals and objectives

Leaders often know what they want to create before it is created, making them visionary experts when it comes to creating SMART objectives and business goals. A clear goal is described as a north star, something that not only guides, but motivates a team. As these are characteristics of a good leader, goal setting is something that comes almost naturally to them.

Making difficult company decisions

Weighing up information, keeping perspective and thinking creatively are all attributes of a good leader and these skills all play a part when making difficult company decisions.

Whether that be cost-cutting or restructuring, leaders will take into consideration all parties involved, ensuring that the pros, cons and impact are all correctly measured. This not only allows for them to make good decisions but means that they are more likely to remain clear minded while making difficult ones.

Employees are confident and productive

When employees are confident and comfortable in their abilities, they are then in the position to expand on their knowledge and influence or mentor others. This is where leaders can really make a difference, educating individuals on how to become great leaders themselves.

You should manage your team when:

Training or developing new team members

Every team has their own processes or ways of completing certain tasks. So, when someone new enters a team, managers are often the ones with the personal skills and knowledge to train new team members to organisational standard.

Delegating tasks and workload

Good managers are excellent delegators and delegation is something individuals look directly to their manager for. For a team to be as productive as possible, delegated tasks and dividing workload is vital of any manager.

A set of circumstances requires specific results

Managers require the skills necessary to move teams from A to B seamlessly and a situation where specific results must be met, is a clear example of this. Teams and individuals will require management when there’s a set of goal to be achieved and time restrictions are in place.

As those who are the most knowledgeable on the skills and resources present, management is vital when there’s exact results required.

Minimising risk

Managers will oversee a team’s workload, output and results which means when it comes to identifying risks, a manager is often the first person to foresee any issues.

This in turn builds their knowledge around the potential risks that could occur, reducing them when they do and most importantly, ensuring they don’t happen repeatedly. In turn, managers become experts in risk management.

Creating processes or workflows

A significant part of a manager’s job role is to manage the processes within their team. They’ll not only create them, often with the input of their team, but they will also continue to analyse them to ensure the highest level of productivity is met.

This means when it comes to the creation and implementation of new work processes, managers are able create and optimise a structure that works best for a specific team.

Should managers be good leaders and vice versa?

In most cases, no, however, essential leadership qualities can and do greatly improve a manager’s ability to successfully manage their teams. While managers are not required to have the same visionary outlook and be consistently inspirational in their attitude and actions as leaders are, managers who strive towards productivity, forward-thinking and inspiring their teams, tend to be better leaders.

On the other hand, not all leaders possess the patience and the mindset required of managers to deal with the particulars and the processes of every-day management. Managers are often side by side their teams and are contributing towards the overall team workload, which is potential gap in a leader’s knowledge and capabilities.

So, while there are pros and cons of both leadership and management, collaboration of both is often well received.


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