By definition, leadership and management are very similar. They both translate, basically, to being in charge of either people, things, or a situation. And in practice, there does indeed seem to be quite a bit of overlap. Both people have underlings. Both have the power to dish out direction. Both make more money and have better titles than the rest of the fish in the corporate pond.
And yet according to Inc.'s 2014 edition of the Inc. 500, a whopping 86% of the executives surveyed believe management and leadership are two different things.
Why? Because there are a few key differences dictionaries don’t bother to explain.
Though there are countless opinions on which type of person does what and how, the truth is these differences are entirely subjective. There aren’t really any statistics lying around to quantify them. None of us can safely say, for example, that 49% of people in managerial roles are also considered leaders. These labels are too hard to define, and thus, too hard to quantify by way of a study.
The truth is, we just know it when we see it. Some people simply seem to have leadership qualities, and others seem to be merely managing.
We have a few of our own ideas about the differences. Here’s our crack at the indefinable:
Managers Have Skills, Leaders Have Qualities
Managers can time track and task assign and project manage the day and week and month to a fine level of detail. (And these are all very useful and necessary things.) That's why they're called managers or supervisors in title.
Leaders, on the other hand, may occupy a wide range of roles. They may not have managerial skills at all. They may not be in supervisory positions. What they do have are leadership qualities: things like honesty, vision, trust, communication, confidence, calm, patience, the ability to roll with things, and to see past the obstacles to the long-term goals. They’re not trying to manage. They’re trying to get someplace. And they have the faith of the people around them.
Leaders Also Manage
When they do occupy managerial roles, leaders can also do a little bit of management along the way. They can delegate, and assign, and plan, and worry about budgets. But above and beyond all this, they will have a stake in the vision of the department or product or team. In the best circumstances, they’re at the helm of the company and have a whole collection of people who believe in what they are trying to achieve.
The Need for Experience
You can fill either role regardless of age, but leaders tend to have some notable experience behind them, or are the kind of person who can reap a lot of wisdom from relatively little experience. True confidence comes from knowing what you’re doing and having a belief in a designed future, and it can be awfully hard to get behind someone who’s faking it.
We all know there are differences between leadership and management. We all know one from the other when we encounter — in the wild — those who do it well and those who do it badly. And we all learn from the ones we respect.