The Difference Between Leadership and Management

management and leadership

Understanding Management and Leadership

Management and leadership are different in multiple ways. Understanding these differences makes a huge difference in how a volunteer administrator leads their volunteer team. John Kotter suggests, “management is about coping with complexity,” while, “leadership is about coping with change” (1995, p. 115). The idea being that managers focus on organizing the functions of an organization in order to decrease complexity while leaders look forward toward the future, inciting necessary change along the way. Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson believe management is often associated with the skills of “planning, organizing, motivating, and controlling,” while leadership is associated with “diagnosing, adapting, and communicating” (2001, p. 11).

Leader and Follower Relationship

Another leadership researcher named Rost suggests the differences are found in the nature of the relationship between the leader and the follower. He suggests leadership involves an “influence relationship” where management implies a relationship based on authority (1991, p. 149). Overall, one could argue managers most often wrestle with the question of how something should be done while leaders question why something should be done. As another way of saying this, managers focus on what is while leaders consider what could be. An organization preoccupied on what is, will soon miss out on what could be. The following table shows some potential differences between management and leadership.

Solving ProblemsHowWhy
FocusWhat “is”What “could be”
Structures and ProcessesSystems
Focus on the businessAre we in the right business?

Uncovering a Common Mistake

Sometimes books on leadership tend to denigrate management as the uncool younger brother of leadership. They describe leadership as what managers want to be when they grow up. Management may even be painted as something negative. Instead, what if both management and leadership were different forms of leadership? To simplify, some have used the term Transactional Leadership to describe management and Transformational Leadership to describe leadership. Transactional leadership focuses more on getting things done now while transformational leadership thinks through organizational direction.

Why Definitions of Leadership and Management Matter

Although it may feel like we’re playing around with vocabulary the semantics here matter. Organizations needs all sorts of leadership. They need individuals adept at getting things done- and done well. It takes a certain type of leadership to get trains leaving on time and rockets safely making their way into space (transactional leadership). But we also need individuals asking whether or not we’re building the right rocket or using the best train (transformational leadership). Both types of leadership are needed within every organization. Imagine if everyone was a leader within an organization- how would anything ever get done?

A Tool in Both Hands

Understanding the differences between management and leadership can be helpful to volunteer leaders in a few ways. First, it’s important to understand that both are needed within any organization. Second, it’s important to understand that both are needed to manage volunteers well. As a leader of volunteers, sometimes you’ll need to put on your management hat, working on the forms and follow ups of your position, while other times you’ll need to lead your team. Until you understand the differences of these two tools, you won’t be able to understand how and when each need to be utilized within your role.