Leadership vs. Management: What’s the Difference?

Do You Have the Attributes of a Great Leader?

The world needs both effective managers and great leaders. But what is the difference between management and leadership? We’ll take a scenario that illustrates the difference between managers and leaders, and then consider some attributes that lie at the foundation of great leadership.

Challenging Times Set the Stage

In a thriving tech startup, there were two individuals, Alex, and Sarah, overseeing their respective teams. Alex was known as an effective manager, while Sarah was recognized as a great leader. The distinction between their styles became apparent when a major setback occurred.

The company was developing a groundbreaking software product that required intense collaboration across departments. A critical bug was discovered just days before the planned release, jeopardizing the project’s timeline and causing panic among the team members.

Alex, the effective manager, swiftly took control of the situation. He organized emergency meetings, assigned additional resources to fix the bug, and closely monitored the progress. Alex’s analytical thinking and problem-solving skills allowed him to quickly develop a recovery plan. He communicated the revised timeline to stakeholders, ensuring transparency and managing expectations.

Meanwhile, Sarah, the great leader, approached the setback with a different perspective. Instead of focusing solely on fixing the bug, she gathered the team and shared her genuine concern for their well-being. Sarah acknowledged the stress and pressure they were experiencing, assuring them that she believed in their capabilities to overcome the challenge together.

Sarah encouraged open dialogue, inviting ideas and solutions from every team member. She emphasized the importance of collaboration and drew on the strength of the team’s diversity, recognizing that collective intelligence would lead to innovative breakthroughs.

Outcomes: Good vs. Great

In the end, Alex’s team managed to fix the bug and release the product on an adjusted timeline. The project was successful, and stakeholders were satisfied with the outcome. However, Sarah’s team achieved more than just meeting deadlines. They emerged from the setback stronger and more resilient. The culture of trust, collaboration, and growth that Sarah fostered allowed team members to develop new skills, improve their problem-solving abilities, and strengthen their bonds as a high-performing unit. Let’s consider what Sarah demonstrated that led to greater results.

Leadership: Qualities that Elevate the Team

  1. Servant Leadership: Sarah embodied the principles of servant leadership. She placed the needs of her team members first, offering guidance, support, and resources to ensure their success. Sarah understood that by empowering her team, they would collectively achieve greater heights.
  2. Continuous Improvement: Rather than resorting to blame or dwelling on missteps, Sarah fostered a culture of continuous improvement. She encouraged her team to reflect on the setback as a learning opportunity, allowing them to identify areas for growth and develop new strategies. By embracing a mindset of continuous improvement, Sarah helped her team grow stronger and more resilient.
  3. Emotional Intelligence and Sensitivity: Sarah demonstrated high emotional intelligence, understanding the motivations of her team members. She showed empathy and sensitivity during a challenging time. By acknowledging and addressing their concerns, Sarah fueled her team members’ determination to overcome obstacles and achieve their best.
  4. Building Trust through Collaboration: Sarah built trust within her team by actively seeking diverse input and encouraging collaboration. She created an environment where everyone felt valued and respected, fostering a sense of psychological safety. By welcoming diverse perspectives, Sarah enhanced the team’s problem-solving capabilities and promoted a culture of trust and open communication.

Management and Leadership

This scenario illustrates the distinction between an effective manager and a great leader. Both skills are necessary. Alex’s effective management skills were crucial in addressing the setback and meeting goals, while Sarah’s leadership qualities empowered the team to thrive amidst adversity, unlocking their full potential and fostering an environment of growth and innovation.

The Difference: Management gets Things Done, while Leadership Inspires Team Success

Under Sarah’s leadership, the team rallied together, leveraging their unique expertise and creative problem-solving skills. They embraced a fail-fast mentality, viewing the setback as an opportunity for growth and learning. Sarah provided guidance and support, ensuring that mistakes were seen as steppingstones toward success rather than reasons for blame. Ultimately, Sarah’s team not only achieved the desired outcomes but also emerged stronger, more cohesive, and better equipped to face future challenges.

A Deeper Dive into Attributes of Great Leaders

Each of these attributes is a deep well, worthy of further examination. If leadership interests you, check out these recommended texts.

  1. “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t” by Jim Collins
  2. “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu
  3. “Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box” by The Arbinger Institute
  4. “The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses” by Eric Ries
  5. “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” by Stephen R. Covey
  6. “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras
  7. “The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail” by Clayton M. Christensen
  8. “Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.” by Brené Brown
  9. “The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek
  10. “Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity” by Kim Scott


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