Distinction of Leaders and Managers

Leadership may be described as the process of maximising the efforts of others by social influence and the provision of direction while management could be defined as the ability to get things done through other people in order to achieve the organisational goals. By the creation and communication of a vision effective leaders do the ‘right things’ whilst managers do ‘things right’ (Bennis & Nanus, 1985, p. 21). While Leadership and Management cannot be seen as equivalent terms, Kotter (Kotter, 1990, p. 103) emphasised that “leadership and management are two distinctive and complimentary activities” that may both be necessary for success and Mintzberg concludes that leadership is far from being separate and distinct from management but just one dimension of a multifaceted management role.

It appears that to differentiate between the roles of managers and leaders one first needs to have a look at what leadership and management actually are. Some answers may be found in the various academic approaches to trait, behavioural and situational leadership theories.

Trait Approaches to Leadership

Among the early theories about leadership is the idea that leaders are born as such and not made leaders. The assumption was that leadership qualities are inherent and probably hereditary. Later from these naturalistic approaches the trait theories, still assuming leaders are born as such, rose. Back to the mid-1800s Carlyle (1841) and Galton (1869) argued that leadership is unique to only a select number of individuals and that these individuals possess certain immutable traits that cannot be developed. In contrast to behavioural theories trait theories do not look at a leader’s behaviour but argue that effective leaders share a number of common personality characteristics, or ‘traits’ that naturally qualifies them as leaders. The trait perspective of Leadership was widely accepted until the 1940s and key leader traits include drive, leadership motivation, honesty and integrity, self-confidence, cognitive ability and knowledge of the business. Though obvious these traits and characteristics pose a major role in good leadership Ralph Stogdill (1948, p. 64) concluded that “A person does not become a leader by virtue of the possession of some combination of traits” because his research showed that there are no universally existing traits identical in business, political and military leaders and therefore deemed personality traits insufficient in predicting leadership effectiveness.

Behavioural Approaches to Leadership

In 1939 the German Psychologist Kurt Lewin argued that leadership works best in a participative environment. He identified three main leadership styles:

§  Autocratic - The leader informs what must be done. Most or all decisions are made by the leader without involvement of employees.

§  Democratic - Some decision-making powers are given to employees while the final decision is still made by the leader.

§  Laissez-faire or delegative - This being a rather relaxed leadership style, almost all decision-making-control is given to staff. While granting independence this may only work on employees that are also responsible for maintaining control of their work and at a particular skill-level, where they do not need a push from superiors.


According to Blake and Mouton and their leadership model from 1964, the best style to lead is the ‘Team-Management-Style – High-Production/High-People’. Understanding the organization's purpose and the employee’s commitment to the organization’s success leads to high satisfaction and motivation and therefore to high results.


In 1960 Douglas McGregor contrasted on two theories on human motivation and management; he called these Theory X and Theory Y. While theory X assumes that employees generally have no ambition or incentive to work because they dislike working and avoid responsibility, employees need to be forced and threatened to deliver what is needed, directed, controlled and supervised at every step. Theory Y on the other hand describes a de-centralized, participative style of management assuming employees are generally creative and happy to work and in fact seek responsibility as a self-motivation to enjoy working. McGregor noticed that X-Type workers usually are the minority but for example in large scale production environments, X Theory management may be unavoidable.


In 1978 James McGregor Burns (1978) established the ideas of transformational and transactional leadership. The transformational model was further developed by Bernard Bass in 1985. The four components are sometimes referred to as the four I’s:

§  Idealized Influence – Leading by example; while the leader is considered as a role model, he therefor is admired

§  Inspirational Motivation – Leading by inspiring and motivating employees

§  Individualized Consideration – Leading by demonstrating genuine concern for the individual needs of employees.

§  Intellectual Stimulation – Leading by requiring innovation and creativeness

Combining the first two constitutes the leader’s individual ‘charisma’. Although transformational leaders are often wrongly considered as being ‘soft’ they actually constantly challenge their employees to thrive for higher performance.

Stuational Approaches to Leadership

The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory, first published in 1969, elaborates that, depending on the maturity of the team members, different styles need to be used. Arguing that a more directing approach should be used while working with immature employees and with a growing maturity of the people a more participative, delegating style is adequate. As there are no teams and team members that are created equal they argue that leaders are more effective when their leadership is based on the groups or individuals they are leading.


In their book ‘Primal Leadership’ Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee (2001) described six distinct emotional leadership styles. While two of their styles – ‘Coercive’ and ‘Pacesetting’ – can create tension and therefore should only be used carefully in specific situations, the other four styles – ‘Authoritative’, ‘Coaching’, ‘Affiliative’ and ‘Democratic’ – have the positive outcome of promoting harmony. According to Goleman the six styles should be used interchangeably, adapting to the specific situation and the needs of the people that have to be handled.

What is Management ?

Important for successful managers is that to a certain degree they need to have leadership qualities. Not every manager needs to be a leader, but one of the essentials is the ability to execute a given vision, taking a strategic vision and break it down into a roadmap to be followed by the team. Managers usually should have the ability to direct the day-to-day work efforts, review resources needed and anticipate needs along the way. Typically they establish work rules, processes, standards and operating procedures. And still, one of the important qualities that not many managers possess is a people focus, looking after their people, their needs, listening to them and involve them in decisions and processes. Managers developing this skill may be soon taking the step to become good leaders.

Warren Bennis (Bennis, 1989) summarised the key differences between a leader and a manager:




·         Motivates people to develop new objectives

·         Motivates people and administers resources to achieve organisational goals

·         Long range perspective

·         Short range view

·         An original

·         A copy

·         Develops

·         Maintains

·         Focuses on people

·         Focuses on systems and structures

·         Shapes

·         Implements

·         Inspires trust

·         Relies on control

·         Eye on the horizon

·         Eye on the bottom line

·         Opens up horizons

·         Narrows down horizons

·         Emotional

·         Rationale

·         Own person

·         Classic good soldier

·         Challenges the status quo

·         Accepts the status quo

·         Does the right thing

·         Does things right


After a closer look it appears that the main difference between management and leadership is that leaders have followers while managers have employees. The first doesn’t automatically exclude the second. Certainly there are managers that at the same time are good leaders and vice versa. However, generally leaders create visions and new objectives, inspire people to follow on this vision, they start new things that were not seen before. Managers do things right, they don’t invent, they usually administer and execute. Leaders work with their heart while managers work with their head.


Therefore indeed Grint’s short definition “Management is the equivalent of déjà vu (seen this before), whereas leadership is the equivalent of vu jade (never seen this before)” describes very well that the vision, the creation of something never seen before, may be the most important distinction between management and leadership.