Management vs. Leadership: Knowing the Difference

In the realm of business, the titles of “Manager” and “Leader” are often used interchangeably. By definition, a manager is someone with authority who supervises others and makes decisions for a larger group. Given these responsibilities, he or she must also be a leader, right? According to Herb Kimble, CEO of Metis Apax, not necessarily. That is to say, leadership is not just about being in a position of power; rather, it’s a term that indicates how that power is used. When we look at leadership from a standpoint that emphasizes personal characteristics and innovative actions, it becomes easy to see why true leaders, and not just those with titles, remain essential to today’s successful businesses.

So just what makes someone a leader, rather than a manager?

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  • A leader is someone with initiative. Note that initiative is different than motivation. A senior manager may be motivated to meet deadlines, conduct regular performance reviews and provide a quality product or service, but a leader possesses more than just the drive to complete day-to-day tasks. He or she is also a visionary focused on improvement. A leader doesn’t just worry about the present, but thinks about the road ahead and the course of action required. Further, a leader actively initiates new methods or strategies to improve business practices, and never hesitates to take action when necessary.
  • Leaders also earn their influence in a company. A leader maintains influence beyond what managers typically yield, and it is this that is most valuable to a company. What do we mean? Leaders are those that employees want to listen to and support. A leader isn’t someone that was hired to specifically win the favor of other employees; instead, they earn the admiration and respect of their colleagues through their performance over time. Every company needs leaders who can inspire and unify its employees. Individuals garner this type of influence in many ways, including demonstrating their strong work ethic and their exceptional passion for the business, and by forging meaningful connections with those they work with.
  • Leaders take risks. A leader is someone in a position of power that understands the inherent value of making high-risk decisions at times. Why? While quality may be the key to sustainability, risk is the conduit for meaningful growth. Without leaders who are willing to wade into unchartered waters occasionally, whether it is by implementing a new customer service policy, changing branding, or investing money into marketing to a new audience, a company will likely never reach its true potential for growth.
  • Leaders are congenial, relatable, and humble. Leaders possess the ability to truly connect with their employees and coworkers, and are more concerned with serving the company than themselves. This is not to say that managers are selfish or unkind; rather, leaders more overtly demonstrate their ability to relate to others. When leaders do succeed, they also see their success as a victory for the company instead of for themselves. More specifically, leaders are motivated by outcomes, not the praise or recognition that accompanies them.

All in all, both leaders and managers are necessary for a company to continue to prosper; in fact, a room full of visionary leaders could be just as ineffective as a room full of task-oriented managers. The key is to operate a company that incorporates a mix of individuals in positions of power that possess both leadership and management skills.


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