Is there a difference between Management and Leadership?

The concept of leadership has been analyzed as a concept distinct from management for centuries. Indeed a great deal of the debate dates back to Weber (and even a hundred years before too), who’s well known for distinguishing between transactional (bureaucratic), transformative (charismatic) and feudal (traditional) models of leadership. And the philosophical debate has been continued in today’s era by the likes of Burns and Bass. Bass said
“Leaders manage and managers lead, but the two activities are not synonymous. Management functions can potentially provide leadership; leadership activities can contribute to managing. Nevertheless, some managers do not lead, and some leaders do not manage”.

Far from being distinct, the above quote seems to reflect the consensus view. Leadership is commonly thought of as relating to inspiration, charisma and particularly crisis situations where direction, and “grabbing the bull by the horns” are important. Management however, is often thought of as being more operational, administrative, reactive and sometimes technical. One results in change, the other results in maintenance.

But what’s the truth? And is there any merit in the separation of these two concepts? Professor Tony de Luca of Sacred Heart University believes that not only is the debate without merit, but it also proves very little in the way of a real difference. For example a leader who isn’t a manager would make nice speeches but never deliver on anything. They would be ” all smoke and no sizzle” i.e. no beef. So in reality there’s no point in separating the two concepts because either job needs both skill sets.

What are your thoughts?


  • I recently read a book written by Dr. Stephen R. Covey who describes leadership as the function to define the desired goals to achieve whereas the management is in charge finding the mean to achieve the defined goals. On that term, leadership is like a wheel in the car and management can be compared to the engine . “Is there any merit in the separation of these two concepts”? yes and know as by separating the concepts, we understand better that one function has no use without the other and thus understand the interconnectivity of the two function: The car would no go anywhere without it’s engine and the engine is useless if there’s no wheel abling us to go to the right direction. I personally think that wheel deciding on which direction to go is far more important than the engine because if the direction is wrong, we can go backwards whereas, with the right direction, even if you don’t get advanced, you will not go and fall off from the cliff….

  • Thanks for the comment Yuka, and sorry for the delayed reply!

    I agree that there is indeed a distinction between leadership and management. And Covey is perhaps a good person to cite too. Bill Clinton invited Covey to Camp David after reading his first book ‘the seven habits of highly effective people’. So his work is popular. But he’s also precisely the sort of person who makes a habit of sub-dividing concepts in order to better understand them. He separated principles from values by saying that where the former could be universal, and would always affect the consequences of action, the latter is subjective and changes over time.

    Yet making a distinction between conceptual words such as leadership and management, or values and principles, is easily done on paper. After all, the dictionary doesn’t define them in the same way. And there is a great extent of literature dating back to well before Weber, which explicitly talks about this distinction. As an academic exercise there is a lot content in the topic.

    De Luca’s question however, was whether such a separation has any impact in practice. And still, I would argue yes. Where an academic distinction can be made, there is knowledge to be gained. Where there is knowledge to be gained, particularly at the conceptual, big picture level, there is understanding to be gained. And very little can be practised well without a proper understanding. Take the example below:

    1. Fred get a new job as a Manager.
    2. He reads the job description, which explains that the job is quite technical. He has a team of 5 reporting to him, but his job is simply to make sure that they’re doing what is in their job descriptions, as well as whatever his boss tells him to do.
    3. Not having studied leadership or management, what would be Fred’s expected course of action? Most likely he’d simply get on with it. He would try and ‘get the job done’, and get it done more efficiently.

    In all likeliness, it’s quite possible that Fred would do this well, respond to every problem that comes to him, and receive good end of year reviews. But given the knowledge of your analogy Yuka, Fred would be likely to do far better. For instead of getting straight stuck into the detail, he would take a step back. He would begin “to see the wood for the trees”. He may question why his job description is written as it is, what are the organisational goals that he’s being asked to achieve, how client value is maximised, and where he would like the team to be in five years down the line. By trying to get the job done, Fred would act as the engine, and so long as the steering wheel is in place at the level above him, then all might be ok. But should he begin to steer himself, then there would be a lot less waste, and a lot more improvement.

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