Skill Sets: Leadership vs Management


Leaders tend to be first in a group. This is seen in both animals and humans.
A symbol of management, business model is a simplification of how an organization in business interacts with its environment. Or more simply, how it makes money.


“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women me rely players:
They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” — William Shakespeare As You Like It)

To understand work, it helpful to look at a social role. This is not the thing you eat unfortunately. A role is a fairly standardized behavior. Technically, a social role is, “An expected behavior for a given individual that relates to social status and social position.”

In a family environment, a woman plays the role of mother, aunt, sister, daughter, grandmother, lover, etc. as she goes through life. A man will play complementary roles including father, uncle, son, brother and so on. It’s important to understand that one also plays roles at work.

To cite one example, The Dictionary of Occupational Titles has thousands roles listed. In a professional category such as as engineering, medicine and law, there are a number of specialty areas.

In fact, certain roles function almost as a class. These include employees (or workers), managers, executives, entrepreneurs, investors, and stockholders. Within the executive class, we have c-level roles such as: the CEO, CFO, CIO, CM), CLO, COO, and so on.

Throughout life, we will be called to play many roles. Two of the most important work roles relate to that of leader and manager. These are the two key roles one must play on the stage of business. 

Despite this, many confuse when to manage and when to lead. Even b-school professors talk as though leadership and management are the same thing. But fundamentally, they are very different.  This was discovered a few years ago while doing on-site training in Total Quality Management.

As part of a class exercise, participants where asked for a definition of Total Quality Management. Everyone got total right and there was even good consistency regarding quality. However, when it came to management, participants were all over the the place. This confusion extends into the business schools.

Managers think different from leaders. A managers mindset is formed b-schools who rarely are leaders. Here is a video from an interview with John Scully who discusses what happens when there is a conflict between the manager role (played by Scully and the visionary leader role, played by Steve Jobs)


In fact, professors tend to lack clarity about the fundamental differences between what a leader does and what a manager does. You can still hear them speak about the importance of “managing people.” Actually, most people don’t like to be “managed” but if you lead them, they will follow you anywhere.

One way to understand leadership and management is to imagine a two Venn diagrams. Most of the time, the two do not intersect. However, certain activities require both outstanding leadership and management skills. One example is a project manager. One must ably manage the resources available for the project while exercising leadership skills to build a strong team. Another example is delegation. 

Typically leadership and management functions do not overlap. In some cases, such as project management and delegation they do.
Typically leadership and management functions do not overlap. In some cases, such as project management and delegation they do.

Basic Definitions Of Leadership And Management

“Some leaders cannot manage — some managers cannot lead.”

One institution that never got the differences between management and leadership confused is the U.S. military.


One person who clearly knew what she was talking about was Grace Hopper. An interesting lady, she started in the Navy Waves in WW II and retired as a rear admiral. One story about her goes:

In the early days of computers, there was a great deal of mechanical parts and relays. One day her engineers and programmers got into a big argument about whether the software was wrong or whether the hardware was messed up. She went pulled off a back panel and found an insect crawling in the electronics. This led to the words, “There is a bug in the computer.” Another saying attributed to her was, “It’s better to seek forgiveness, than to ask for permission.”


Skill Sets for the Management Role

“I don’t like to be managed. But if you lead me, I’ll follow you anywhere.” –A comment heard in the halls of a large corporation

You manage work, not people. So don’t buy-in to the crap management professors like to use about people want to be management. You manage activities such as:

  • Money,
  • Time,
  • Paperwork,
  • Materials, and
  • Equipment, etc.
The classic symbol of management—the suit. This is also a symbol of authority.

“You can’t manage men into battle. You manage things, you lead people.” — U.S. Navy, Grace Hooper

While the military services have a clear definition of leadership, the management schools across the world are not. You hear it all the time among the b-school professatoriat. They always talk about, “Managing people.” 

This implies the leadership and management are the same. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Few people like to be managed, most people would love to be led; for we lead people and we manage resources. If you want to manage people in the same way that you would manage time or balance sheet, no problem. However, most people resent being managed; but, if you lead them, they will follow you anywhere.

Management is something we do when we are focused on a task — typically if involves some type of work. We manage time, resources and money. However, what leadership is about is people. So leaders have followers while managers have subordinates.

Eight Basic Management Skills

You might also also say the function of management includes:

  • Planning,
  • Organizing,
  • Controlling,
  • Directing, and
  • Coordinating

These are often listed in the management 101 texts as a function.

But there are also certain conceptual skills such as:

  • Decision making,
  • Strategy and tactics, and
  • Problem solving

These seem to fit better in management verses the leadership area, but you can go either way.

Some professors like to say “Managers are decision makers.” but that doesn’t seem quite right. A better description is, “Executives are decision makers — manager’s are problem solvers.”

Some things should be managed and other things should not. For example, people should not be managed — it implies we treat them like things. 

Skill Sets for the Leadership Role

Leadership, though, is a completely different set of mental processes.  Leaders focus on relationship more than task and can transform groups into teams. Leadership has an essential focus on people and how to influence them. 

You have skills including:

  • Vision
  • Motivation
  • Persuasion
  • Inspiration
  • Communication, and
  • Teams evolution.

One can add to the list of leadership activities:

  • Counseling, 
  • Coaching,
  • Teaching, and
  • Mentoring.

To be a leader, one needs an exclusive set of human relations and interpersonal skills. Its essence is able influence. 

To influence one needs a number of component skills. Some are fairly easy to develop — others take a long time to perfect. For example, it’s easy to learn authority but learning charisma takes a really long time. Conclusion

“No one talks about managing fun and play.” — Anonymous



It’s vital for us all to be able to play both roles; for the boss who cannot manage will kill an organization just as fast as one who cannot lead. But the person who can both lead and manage, is on the path to success. 


Emmanuel Leutze (1816-1868), Washington Crossing the Delaware

Emmanuel Leutze (1816-1868), Washington Crossing the Delaware


Management and leadership skill development should be viewed as a lifetime endeavor. One of the strategic blunders made by many is that they stop building skills.

I remember the words my mother installed deeply into my mind starting when I was a little boy. Perhaps your mother had similar words. She told me on many occasions, “Work hard — You’ll succeed.”

After putting these words into practice for many years, I discovered she was only half right. A better affirmation is, “Work hard — Work smart — You’ll succeed.” And to work smart, you must continually upgrade your knowledge and skills.


Kotter, Phillip (2013)Management is Still Not Leadership. Harvard Business Review Blog Network, January 9.

Harvard Business Review Articles on Leadership 

Harvard Business Review Articles on Managing People


Resources and References

Beach, Don & Reinhartz, Judy (1999). Supervisory Leadership. Allyn and Bacon.

Fritz, Susan (2004). Interpersonal Skills For Leadership, 2nd Edition. Prentice-Hall.

Hunisicker, Frank (1978). What Successful Managers Say About Their Skills, Personal Journal, November: 618-621.

Margarison, Charles & Kakabadse, Andrew (1984). How American Managers Succeed. New York: AMA Publications.

Prentice, Majorie (1984). An Empirical Search For a Relevant Managerial Curriculum. Collegiate News and Views, Winter: 25-29.

Whetten, David & Cameron, Kim (2011). Developing Management Skills, 8th Edition. Prentice Hall.



Leadership Skill Development