Managing Versus Leading



“Management is about skills, leadership is about skills coupled with character.”

– Patrick Townsend and Joan Gebhardt in Five Star Leadership

It is said that “Managers do things right. Leaders do the right things.



Who comes to your mind when you think of world leaders? May be Gandhi, Kennedy, Mandela, among others. Can you imagine them to be good managers? May be. May be not. Probably the word ‘manager’ itself looks a bit odd on them.

Management is defined as “organization and coordination of the activities of an enterprise in accordance with certain policies and in achievement of clearly defined objectives”.

Leadership is defined as “a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of  people in the accomplishment of a common task”.

What is the main difference in these definitions?

There is a mention of ‘people’ in the definition of Leadership. That is the core difference for me. Leadership gives human angle to management.

Management is about meticulous planning and ruthless execution to achieve goals. Leadership too could be about planning and execution, but it is much more than that. And it is harder to achieve than just managing. Leadership is inspiring. It makes people ‘do whatever it takes’ to achieve the goals.

Managers are ‘brain’ of the organization, and leaders are ‘heart’ of it.

Leaders set directions, which are rather broad, for people to be excited about and follow. Managers set goals, which are specific.

Let us look at some of the characteristics of managers and leaders –

Managers look inside the organization, set things right. Make them work impeccable, form goals and drive themselves and their people to achieve these goals.Leaders look outwards. They articulate vision, direction, a path to tread. They inspire people to march towards this direction, and vision.
Managers typically cannot work in isolation. They need people to work on their plans and achieve the goals.Leaders can, and often do, think brilliantly when alone. Their motivation, so to speak, comes when they are on their own.
Managers may be risk averse as compared to leaders. They have goals to achieve and work with in boundaries either set by them or the organization, to achieve these.Leaders are risk takers, game changers. They may be perceived as rebellious as well. They think and act differently.
Managers are passionate about goals.Leaders are passionate about their vision, direction.


Leadership is harder to teach and develop than management. Former is like art, while latter is like science.

How can one lead a project than managing it?

By focusing more on people than processes. By imbibing some of the characteristics of leaders we saw above.

  • Place focus on result of a task, than number of hours put in.
  • Encourage risk takers. They achieve out of the ordinary
  • Figure out team members’ strengths and try to give them work they can perform from their strengths
  • Celebrate good failures, rather than condemning them
  • Help people balance between work and their personal life. Let them know that work is worship, but family comes first.
  • Don’t catch fish for them, teach them how to catch
  • Trust people, and let them know. They won’t let you down.
  • Let people know that you are there for them when they need

Manager vs LeaderOn a lighter note, here is something I came across a few places (not sure where the credit is due) –

Managers resolve. Leaders involve.
Managers spare. Leaders share.
Managers pare. Leaders dare.
Managers require. Leaders inspire.
Managers preach. Leaders teach.
Managers detect. Leaders respect.
Managers haze. Leaders praise.
Managers control. Leaders extol.
Managers react. Leaders enact.
Managers follow rules. Leaders make them.
Managers dread failure. Leaders learn from it.
Managers do things right. Leaders do right things.
Managers focus on action. Leaders focus on vision.
Managers demand results. Leaders expand opportunities.
Managers think and work inside the box. Leaders can think and work outside the box.

It is often said that “a great manager is a leader in the making”.

Do you agree? Share your opinion in the Comments below.

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