Leadership vs. Management: When to Manage and When to Lead

Updated April 3, 2023

Four employees talk to each other while seated in a circle.

Leaders are people who inspire their teams to achieve their goals, while managers are people who strategize ways to meet those goals. While leadership and managers are similar, there are key differences to be aware of.

In this article, we discuss the skills of leaders and managers, the main differences between leadership and management and when to lead and when to lead your team.

What is leadership?

Leadership is the act of helping a person or group of people achieve an agreed-upon goal. Common qualities associated with leadership include the ability to motivate, inspire and encourage others to pursue and see their vision through. Leadership tends to focus more on increasing results by building and maintaining talented teams rather than ensuring tasks are completed through management.

Related: 11 Ways To Demonstrate Your Leadership Skills at Work

Qualities of a leader

The following are specific examples of leadership skills and traits within the workplace:

  1. Has a vision

  2. Thinks strategically

  3. Creates a mission statement

  4. Defines the purpose of the team

  5. Considers the strengths of each team member

  6. Inspires behavior

  7. Satisfies the unmet needs of employees

  8. Encourages commitment

  9. Reaches long-term goals

  10. Gives feedback

  11. Motivates

  12. Creates change

  13. Takes calculated risks

Related: Top 10 Qualities of Effective Leadership (With Tips to Implement)

How to measure effective leadership

Effective leadership can be measured by the behavior of your team. Here are some ways to measure leadership effectiveness:

  • Employee satisfaction and job happiness

  • Adherence to workplace policies

  • Employee engagement

  • Employee attrition

  • Absenteeism

  • Work culture

  • Promotion rates

Overall job satisfaction among your employees is a top way to determine whether your leadership style is effective.

Related: Guide To 6 Top Leadership Theories and How To Apply Them

What is management?

Management is the process of controlling or dealing with situations, things or people. Managing may include coordinating, organizing and planning to ensure aa particular outcome is achieved. Managing a situation or team within the workplace often involves constantly reassessing and tweaking results to measure productivity and improve output.

Qualities of a manager

The following are specific examples of management skills and traits within the workplace:

  1. Improves productivity and efficiency

  2. Establishes processes and streamlines systems

  3. Follows through on realizing the mission statement

  4. Sets timelines

  5. Is organized

  6. Creates budgets

  7. Solves problems

  8. Maintains quality

  9. Demands action

  10. Focuses on strategic planning

  11. Creates order

  12. Establishes rules

  13. Corrects behavior

  14. Minimizes risks

Read more: 15 Effective Managerial Skills and Tips for Improving

How to measure effective management

Effective management can be measured with traditional performance metrics such as:

  • Quantity and quality of output

  • Meeting deadlines

  • Adhering to budgets

  • Attendance

  • Total sales

If your team consistently fails to produce enough quality work on time, your management style may not be helping your team.

Work on providing direct support to your team members when they struggle with a challenging task. Give them a goal to meet but, if they're capable, let them decide how to go about reaching that goal. Check in regularly to see how your staff is progressing on their tasks, and offer a specific direction if needed.

Related: Guide To People Management: Definition, Tips and 8 Skills

Leadership vs. management

Both leadership and management are equally important within the workplace. Simply put, leaders often inspire while managers oversee.

DefinitionThe act of helping a person or group of people achieve an agreed-upon goalThe process of controlling or dealing with situations, things or people
PositionThe term "leader" is more fluid and often not an official roleThe title "manager" refers to a specific role within an organization
Measuring resultsResults are often intangible like employee engagement, work culture and job happiness Results are measurable using metrics like quantity and quality of output and meeting deadlines
Main responsibilitiesMission-based, increasing results by building and maintaining talented teams Coordinating, organizing and planning to ensure a certain outcome is achieved
GoalsA leader's aims to inspire and motivate the people they work with to think outside of the boxA manager directs processes that will deliver desired outcomes based on business objectives

Here are a few of the most significant differences between leading and managing at work:

  • Leadership is often based on a mission, while management is often based on a specific task being completed.

  • Management involves following the rules closely, while leadership often entails creativity and innovation.

  • Management is more focused on controlling people and outcomes, while leadership often centers around inspiring people to think outside of the box.

  • Management focuses on optimizing the execution of a process, while leadership focuses on optimizing a team as a whole.

  • Management is more quantitative, while leadership is more qualitative.

Note: Leadership is about optimizing culture and people, while management is about optimizing all components of project organization and execution.

Read more: Leadership and Management: Understanding the Differences

When to manage and when to lead

Knowing when to manage and when to lead can help create a cohesive team that functions well in positive conditions as well as crises. Leading when it is appropriate and managing when it is required can help your team perform much better and excel in their careers. The following are examples of when it may be better to lead vs. when you should manage your employees:

When to manage your team

Here are a few examples of when you should manage your team:

  • During a crisis or emergency situation

  • For issues that involve processes or projects

  • When training new team members

  • When completing work on a deadline

  • When delegating important tasks

  • When a situation requires specific results

Example: Say your employees are inexperienced with a new POS system that your workplace is implementing. In this circumstance, the members of your team will need extra assistance. Help your employees by telling them exactly how to operate the system, perhaps by providing an in-person training session, a video they can watch in their own time or a how-to guide.

Related: 14 Tips To Manage Up at Work (And Why It's Important)

When to lead your team

Lead your team when your employees are already producing good results and have strong capabilities in their work. When you can trust in their skills but need to define the goal, your team members should be led instead of managed. It's a good idea to lead your team:

  • When employees are confident in their abilities and are performing tasks efficiently

  • When you can trust your team members to do the tasks they have been given without micromanaging them

  • When you are introducing a new approach to the workplace

  • During creative discussions or team meetings

Example: Say your team has been attending weekly team meetings with no set agenda, but you've noticed that most of your employees do not regularly participate or offer feedback. You decide to hold team meetings every other week and set objectives and agendas for each meeting. You begin each of these meetings with time to chat socially and impose a time limit of 30-45 minutes. As a result, your team feels more involved when it counts and more people begin to contribute to meetings.

Once you become more accustomed to your team and their needs, you'll be able to approach each situation by asking yourself if your team needs to be managed, led or a combination of both. The better you get to know your team, the easier it will be to identify their needs. New employees may need more hands-on management until they are more confident and skilled in their duties. Seasoned employees who are highly qualified can do better with minimal direction.

Related: Crisis Leadership: Definition and 6 Essential Components

Frequently asked questions

What’s the difference between a team lead and a manager?

A team lead is someone who guides and encourages a team of people, while a manager is a senior professional who supervises a team. While a manager focuses on quality assurance of work being done, a team leader may work more closely with the team to provide any needed guidance.

Here are some differences between team leads and managers to be aware of:

Team Lead



Often works in a similar role as their team members

A senior professional who oversees a team

Internal vs. external role

Helps to guide teams in a more internal way

Directs teams from a more external perspective


Setting goals for a team, fostering positive relationships, answering questions for team members

Supervising a team, creating objectives for teams, setting project budgets and deadlines, managing work schedules

Read more: Lead vs. Manager: What's the Difference?

What are the main differences between leaders and managers?

Leaders often look to the future and think of the big picture, while managers are tasked with working in the present in order to implement work processes. Here are a few of the main differences between leaders and managers:



Set the vision

Follow the vision

Think of ideas

Execute the ideas

Inspire people

Guide people's success

Shape work culture

Endorse work culture

Can you be a leader without being a manager?

A title doesn't make someone a leader, so you can lead those around you without actually having a management role. The key is to motivate others to do their best. Natural leaders tend to have strong speaking and listening skills, and often attract the attention and respect of others.

It's also important to remember that being a manager doesn't automatically make you an effective leader. While all managers have employees who work for them, they may not necessarily have ones who follow them as leaders do. If you find that your team respects what you have to say and looks to you for guidance and support, then you are likely a manager who is also a leader. If you find that your team simply follows your orders because they have to, then you might want to work on further developing your leadership skills.

Related: 6 Steps To Be a Leader and Not a Boss (Key Differences With Examples)

What are the main management styles?

A management style describes the methods a person uses to manage an individual, meeting, project, group of people or organization. The seven main management styles include:

  1. Authoritative

  2. Consultative

  3. Democratic

  4. Laissez-faire

  5. Persuasive

  6. Transformational

  7. Collaborative

What are the main leadership styles?

Most professionals develop their own style of leadership based on factors like experience and personality, as well as the unique needs of their company and its organizational culture. Here are 10 of the most common leadership styles:

  1. Coach

  2. Visionary

  3. Servant

  4. Autocratic

  5. Laissez-faire

  6. Democratic

  7. Pacesetter

  8. Transformational

  9. Transactional

  10. Bureaucratic

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