Some people use the terms “leadership” and “management” interchangeably, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with this, there is still a debate regarding their similarities or differences.
Is it merely a matter of preference, or are there cut and dry differences that define each term?
Ronald E. Riggio, professor of leadership and organizational psychology at Claremont McKenna College, described what he felt to be the difference between the terms, noting the commonality in the distinction of “leadership” versus “management” was that leaders tend to engage in the “higher” functions of running an organization, while managers handle the more mundane tasks.
However, Riggio believes it is only a matter of semantics because successful and effective leaders and managers must do the same things. They must set the standard for followers and the organization, be willing to motivate and encourage, develop good working relationships with followers, be a positive role model, and motivate their team to achieve goals.
He states that there is a history explaining the difference between the two terms: business schools and “management” departments adopted the term “manager” because the prevailing view was that managers were in charge.
They were still seen as “professional workers with critical roles and responsibilities to help the organization succeed, but leadership was mostly not in the everyday vocabulary of management scholars.”
Leadership on the other hand, derived from organizational psychologists and sociologists who were interested in the various roles across all types of groups.
So, “leader” became the term to define someone who played a key role in “group decision making and setting direction and tone for the group. For psychologists, manager was a profession, not a key role in a group.”
When their research began to merge with business school settings, they brought the term “leadership” with them, but the terms continued to be used to mean different things.
The short answer, according to Riggio is no, not really; simply because leaders and managers need the same skills to be productive and respected.
This editorial was first published here in June of 2014.
June 14, 2014 at 6:03 pm
I don’t agree that leaders and managers need to fill the same role. In many instances a good manager will ‘manage’ a number of leaders. These leaders can excel and lead others while the manager ensures that it is all productive. A good analogy would be in the military. The Generals are managers. The lieutenants and sargents on the front lines are leaders.
June 15, 2014 at 8:53 am
Gabe, – but the manager of a number of leaders is the leader of those managers and of all the people under those managers. No? Not sure how much military experience you have, but in my 26 years of naval service, we all knew that the ship was its Captain.
June 15, 2014 at 9:53 am
Ben, he may be. But he also may be a very poor leader, yet an excellent manager. (IMHO). I was in the Air Force and saw some excellent leaders, and some excellent managers that didn’t do a good job leading, but managed the resources quite well.
The captain of the ship needs to be a leader. The admiral of the fleet needs to be a better manager than a leader.
June 17, 2014 at 9:40 am
Gabe, about what admirals do, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz of WWII fame thought leadership to be key to his performance and stated “Leadership consists of picking good men and helping them be their best.” The higher one is in an organization, the more important leadership becomes. At the lowest levels, the issues are all about deciding what to do and how to do it, in other words managing the work.
June 15, 2014 at 8:51 am
You are right Agstaff. Any person in management (CEO, manager, or first line supervisor) who is responsible for one or more employees is a leader because what they do and don’t do will lead that employee or those employees in how to do their work and treat their customers, each other, and their bosses. This is not something bosses have a choice over. It is what inexorably happens. It is a law of nature, one of the laws that make up the science of people. If one knows all the laws of people and adheres to them, their employees will become highly motivated, highly committed, fully engaged Superstars who love to come to work.
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