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Exploring leadership vs. management and how to excel at both

June 17, 2024 - 23 min read

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Leadership vs. management: understanding vision vs. execution

Leadership vs. management: key differences in action

Leadership vs. management: essential skills

Pros and cons: developing a leadership vs. management career

Deciding whether leadership or management is right for you

Embodying leadership and management skills for ultimate career success

Leadership vs. management: next steps to hone your skills

Leadership vs. management are two sides of the same coin. Effective leadership inspires teams with a forward-thinking vision and its overall objectives. Good management breaks that vision down into achievable, resource-driven goals. 

Despite some differences, great leaders can also be exceptional people managers, and successful managers can excel at leading. Learning to channel both skill sets can help you get the most out of your team.

Leadership vs. management: understanding vision vs. execution

Before diving into the differences between leadership versus management, it’s important to define what they are. 

What is leadership?

Leadership centers around inspiring others and motivating teams to achieve a strategic vision. A leader’s excitement encourages you to engage and adopt their ideas. This includes embracing things like disruptive innovation and new technologies.

What is management?

Management revolves around coordinating a business’s resources effectively to achieve its objectives. Great managers find ways to execute a leader’s vision into day-to-day operations. They plan, organize, and coordinate tasks. They also communicate expectations and ensure team members stay on top of both short-term goals and long-term goals

Strong leadership and management skills are equally important. A leader with an innovative vision can be derailed by management, which creates a toxic work environment. Likewise, great management is affected by company leaders who have unrealistic organizational goals or show resistance to change

Leadership vs. management: key differences in action

Despite the many ways in which leaders vs. managers overlap, there are key differences between the roles. Each requires different skills and professional goals, and both have different job responsibilities. Distinct differences between leadership vs. management include the following.

Direction and planning

A great leader sets the company’s direction, whereas managers work to drive their teams toward that big picture. They have the business acumen to set team goals, delegate tasks, and leverage resources to achieve the company’s vision. Leadership sets the course, and management takes the team on the journey. 

For example, imagine an app development company. A leader may paint a picture of a new AI service that changes the market. It’s then up to the manager to make an action plan to develop the product. This involves organizing personnel, seeing it through to launch, and keeping on top of its evolution and maintenance. 

Transformations and transactions

Leadership looks toward transformative processes to drive change. Effective transformational leaders have a growth mindset, meaning they value continuous learning and knowledge sharing. They also prioritize self-reflection and creative thinking. This, in turn, inspires their team to transform their skills and workflow patterns.

Conversely, strong project management uses transactional leadership. It’s focused on exchanging work and rewards rather than developing big-picture concepts. Management requires you to flex your resource and time-management skills to build initiatives that create a culture of employee engagement. This could include real-time recognition, compensation, and benefits.

A 2023 study published in SAGE Open Nursing found that both transformational and transactional leadership styles significantly contribute to organizational readiness for change. However, transformational leadership was found to better prepare employees for change.

Culture and systems

Leadership styles guide company culture. Leaders are both the architects and the faces of a company’s core values, ethical values, and work style. 

Management cultivates systems and processes that operationalize this culture. The systems they create build trust in the workplace. This encourages teams to believe in their work and collaborate effectively.

During strategic planning meetings, a leader who stands for a culture of transparency and empowerment encourages team members to openly share ideas. Individuals are invited to become a part of the company’s decision-making process. For that culture to develop, management might schedule team brainstorming sessions, thank their teams for contributing ideas, or adopt idea management software. 


People and skills

Part of leaving a legacy through leadership is shaping future leaders. Strong leaders encourage people’s professional development and personal growth through mentoring and coaching.

While managing people requires coaching and forward-thinking skills, a manager’s primary goal is to leverage their team’s existing strengths to maximize productivity and efficiency. Their soft skills, such as intellectual curiosity, grit, and critical thinking, come in handy when they have to allocate resources to realize a leader’s vision. 

Flexibility and stability

One of the most important professional leadership skills to have is cognitive flexibility. The goal of leadership is to drive results and positive change. Adaptive leadership means being willing to drop ideas that don’t work and adopt new solutions.

Good leaders instill that same flexibility in their staff. They foster a sense of autonomy and encourage risk-taking so team members have opportunities to learn and grow. 

Management roles, on the other hand, are more concerned with stability. They establish and enforce structures and protocols to ensure consistent and predictable operations.  

While flexibility and stability seem oppositional, they actually work in unison. You can use your leadership skills to develop new ideas and your management skills to turn them into actionable processes. 

The future and the now

Leaders focus on the future, contemplating where their business fits into the broader industry landscape. Good leaders are in tune with market patterns, trends, and potential disruptions to stay ahead of the curve. 

Management concentrates on the day-to-day operations of a business. The main focuses are short-term goals and immediate problem-solving

Leadership vs. management: essential skills

Despite differences in leadership approaches and role functions, leaders and managers both need interpersonal skills to effectively lead teams. Soft skills required by both positions include humility, empathy, and listening skills.

The trait theory of leadership argues that these leadership characteristics are present at birth. However, this is an outdated theory similar to the Great Man Theory, which was never empirically validated. It can hinder leaders from seeking to develop these skills.

While many skills overlap between leadership vs. management, there are a few distinct skills that lend themselves better to leaders vs. managers and vice versa.

Essential skills and qualities for leaders

Essential qualities of successful leaders include the following:

Essential skills and qualities for managers

Essential skills of a good manager include the following:

Because they work with diverse teams, managers also need to be well-versed in inclusive leadership. Research published in 2023 shows that three-fourths of global workers have felt excluded at work. According to research by BetterUp, workplace belonging can increase job performance by 56%. It can also reduce turnover rates by 50%.

Pros and cons: developing a leadership vs. management career

If you enjoy leading teams, you may be wondering whether you’d be better suited for a leadership role or a management career. Here are a few things to consider when mapping out your career goals.

Skill development

Think about your strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you’ve always leaned more toward being creative than analytical, you might fare better as part of a leadership team. If you enjoy project management and staying on top of logistics, you’d likely enjoy joining a management team. 

It’s important to consider the skills you want to develop as well. Just because you’re better at big-picture thinking doesn’t mean you couldn’t learn the skills to make a phenomenal manager.

Years of experience

Both leaders and managers typically need to have a few years of experience under their belt before they can lead a team. Leaders are often thought of as being higher on the organizational chart than managers.

According to Zippia, it takes an average of two years of professional experience to become a leader. You may also want to consider any formal education you’d like to pursue and variations by industry.

It’s important to remember that you don’t need to have the word “leader” or “manager” in your job description to be a leader. It’s possible to exhibit leadership qualities and functions regardless of your place in the company’s hierarchy.


Similar to required experience, salaries for leaders and managers also vary widely between industries. This can also be impacted by factors like your geographic location.

As a ballpark, ZipRecruiter estimates the average leadership salary in 2024 to be $142,940. Meanwhile, the average business management salary is $77,274.

Work-life balance

Effective leaders and managers both face unique challenges when it comes to finding work-life balance. A study by Harvard Business Review found that CEOs work an average of 62.5 hours per week. In comparison, data published by Florida Tech found that most managers work at least 40 hours weekly. However, managers are often required to work overtime to meet business demands.

It can be hard to find balance in both roles. However, it’s also important for managers and leaders to model work-life balance for their employees. Being in a leadership position may give you more flexibility in how much you work.


In 2023, roughly 75% of C-suite executives seriously considered quitting their jobs in search of better well-being. Comparatively, 64% of managers from the same survey also considered leaving for their mental health. Both of these numbers are higher than the 60% of employees who contemplated quitting.

Leaders and managers often experience more stress than employees due to increased responsibility and accountability. When things don’t get done, they are more likely to harbor the blame.

Career versatility

Despite management and leadership roles varying by company and industry, the skills for these positions don’t significantly differ. This means that being a leader or a manager can bring you greater career versatility. You can apply your operational and people skills to just about any leadership job. In return, this can open a lot of doors for your professional future.

Deciding whether leadership or management is right for you

There are pros and cons to being both a manager and a leader. If you’re trying to decide between the two, consider asking yourself the following questions:

  • Am I willing to work overtime when my job demands it?
  • Do I prefer to be the visionary or the implementer?
  • Is now a good time to take on the extra responsibility the role may require?
  • Do I find more value in helping others to become leaders or showing them hands-on how to accomplish tasks?
  • Am I good at delegating and trusting my team members to stay on top of their work without micromanaging?

You could also consider a middle ground such as going from a manager to a senior manager before joining a leadership team.

The choice boils down to lifestyle and career preferences. Consider making your own pros and cons list for each role related to your industry to help you contemplate.

Embodying leadership and management skills for ultimate career success

Regardless of whether you choose to pursue leadership vs. management, it’s ultimately beneficial to continuously work on developing the skills necessary for both positions. Knowing how to dream big and break that dream down into actionable steps can help maximize your career success and impact. Mastering the skills of both roles can also increase the value of your candidacy when looking for a new job

Leadership vs. management: next steps to hone your skills

If you’re comparing career paths between leadership vs. management, consider getting an outside opinion from a career coach. For example, new manager coaching can help you identify your skills and prepare you to own a new manager role. Every manager can benefit from leadership coaching, whether you’ve been a manager for decades or are eyeing your first management role.

Likewise, leaders can benefit from walking through leadership theories with a career coach to get some ideas to try. Career coaching can also teach you how to prevent developing toxic leadership traits and how to spot them.

Maximize your professional potential. Find a career coach.

Lead with confidence and authenticity

Develop your leadership and strategic management skills with the help of an expert Coach.

Lead with confidence and authenticity

Develop your leadership and strategic management skills with the help of an expert Coach.

Published June 17, 2024

Elizabeth Perry, ACC

Elizabeth Perry is a Coach Community Manager at BetterUp. She uses strategic engagement strategies to cultivate a learning community across a global network of Coaches through in-person and virtual experiences, technology-enabled platforms, and strategic coaching industry partnerships.

With over 3 years of coaching experience and a certification in transformative leadership and life coaching from Sofia University, Elizabeth leverages transpersonal psychology expertise to help coaches and clients gain awareness of their behavioral and thought patterns, discover their purpose and passions, and elevate their potential. She is a lifelong student of psychology, personal growth, and human potential as well as an ICF-certified ACC transpersonal life and leadership Coach.

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