Management vs Leadership

Management and leadership are often regarded as the same thing.

Here, we examine both and reveal the key distinctions.

Understanding the differences between good management and great leadership will help you develop both your in-house legal team and manage your own personal career progression. 

Do you manage or lead - or both?

For some, management and leadership are interchangeable terms. After all, they’re both associated with seniority and are part and parcel of the top jobs in the organisation, right?

Not necessarily.

There’s is a distinction between managing and leading. It’s subtle - and blurred by a great deal of overlap – but it can be seen by the effects each have on the performance of individuals and the organisation as a whole.

In a nutshell, the task of management is to get things done - to execute the plan by ensuring the right people are doing the right things at the right time. This also means ensuring the right budget is approved to ensure the right resources are in place – at the right time. It’s about direction, control, oversight and, when necessary, correction.

Leadership is more about sharing a vision of the end goal and getting people to want to go there, regardless of instructions from management. Or as Stephen R, Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, puts it:

“Management is efficiency in climbing the wall of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”

Except of course, it’s not always as cut and dried as that. Generally, organisations don’t departmentalise management and leadership, but most do recognise the vital importance of both.

In the ideal world, senior managers would be great leaders, too. As well as developing policy and process, they’d set out vision and strategy. As well as defining your job description, they’d inspire and motivate you. As well as telling you what to do, they’d show you where, collectively, the organisation is heading.

This bigger picture dimension to leadership means there are other differences, too. Where managers are focused on short to medium term targets and the bottom line, leaders are looking at the long term.

Managers, necessarily, must deliver on project goals, so their first duty is to direct their people towards the required tasks. Leaders are more people oriented so spend their time with colleagues asking questions and learning about them as individuals.

Can I be both?

There’s no reason at all why you can’t be both a great manager and an inspirational leader. How much personal development you’ll need to achieve this, however, may depend on your natural skills and the type of role you have.

If, for example, you’re a subject matter expert and are in a management role because of your technical expertise, your responsibilities and KPIs may be more project focused than people related. Accuracy, compliance and time management, in this case, may be more pressing requirements than man-management skills.

The good news is that there are no end of courses, books, online materials and other resources that can help you develop your leadership skills. Yes – leadership can be learned.

If, on the other hand, you have natural leadership skills, yet lack the attributes of the effective manager, your organisation will (hopefully) spot your potential and help you realise it through training, mentoring and other personal development opportunities. Be prepared to push for this though!

Not all leaders are in senior roles

As leaders are, at heart, teachers rather than controllers, it’s quite usual for people with leadership skills to exert their influence without being in senior roles. Think about the salesperson who won the big contract for your organisation, the subject matter expert who wrote the white paper and spoke at the industry conference, the IT person who’s helping you get to grips with the new company-wide system.

Think too about your colleagues who give up their time to mentor new starters in the organisation and those who agree to secondments with clients. None of these people are necessarily senior in the organisational hierarchy. Yet all are offering leadership.

So, great manager or great leader?

Clearly, nothing of value to the organisation would be achieved without effective management. Skills must be deployed, budgets must be adhered to, deadlines must met and promises to customers must be fulfilled. The lasting effect of good leadership, however is not just to motivate people to meet today’s objectives, but to enthuse them to live and breathe the organisation’s goals indefinitely.

"Managers light a fire under people. Leaders light a fire in people."

Kathy Austin, Management Consultant


While managers focus on getting things done and completing projects on time and within budget, leaders enthuse people through their vision, influence and willingness to share knowledge and insight.

Both are indispensable to the modern organisation and managers can be leaders and vice versa. However, it’s through leadership that we motivate and empower people and secure their long-term loyalty.