The term "manager" is often associated with someone who tells other people what to do, while a "leader" inspires others to do their best through their words and actions without dictating. Those are semi-accurate portrayals of leadership vs management roles, and most people would rather be called a leader than a manager. But make no mistake: leadership and management are both vital to the success of a business.
So what's the difference?
"Management consists of controlling a group or a set of entities to accomplish a goal," writes Vineet Nayar, author of "Employees First, Customers Second," on Harvard Business Review's blog. "Leadership refers to an individual's ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organizational success. Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, not power and control."
Someone can know they're a leader if other people often turn to them for advice and guidance, Nayar adds.
Leadership vs Management: Why Both Roles Have Value
While companies often like say they are grooming leaders, both management and leadership are important functions.
Great managers may not have large spheres of influence, but they can be masterful at running projects and getting things done. They know how to plan, organize, and coordinate. When a company has a complex project to undertake, a smart manager knows how to execute.
A great leader, on the other hand, may be influential and have fantastic new ideas, but may not be so adept at managing the many ongoing details involved with getting a project done. Leadership is more about inspiring, motivating, and innovating.
How They Work Together
Businesses should aim to maximize the value of both managers and leaders. Ideally, that could mean hiring, or promoting people who prove themselves to be both strong leaders and managers — and such people do exist.
But it's also about finding the right fit for various roles within the organization. Some companies use assessments such as those offered by Gallup's StrengthsFinders, SHL, and Pairin to identify potential new hires' personalities and skills or help employees bolster their job performance. Someone's ability to lead or manage could be gauged through such tests.
Once a company knows of someone's ability to manage and lead — and whether they are better-suited toward one role or the other — it can help guide their talent management decisions. For example, someone who is found to be a strong leader — meaning they're influential and innovative — might thrive in a role that allows them to draw on their creativity or shepherd long-range planning. Someone who's a manager — great at project management and getting things done efficiently—might be right for a role that requires being highly detail-oriented and hands-on. Each job within an organization could be a better fit for someone who's either a stronger leader or a stronger manager. A company can write job descriptions that explain what kind of personality would be a good fit for each position.
Companies shouldn't overlook the opportunity to promote both leadership and management qualities among all their employees. Even though someone may be a stronger manager doesn't mean they won't benefit from learning how to innovate and influence — and vice versa: a great leader could benefit from a lesson or two on managing projects and people.