August 2, 2017 | by Michael Corcoran, author, speaker and leadership instructor

Leadership vs. Management

What's the difference between the two?

The key to understanding leadership and management — and the difference between them — begins with perspective. I like to present people with the idea that you lead people and manage things.  For most people that is a new concept.

Michael Corcoran 

Managers manage tasks — budgets, reports, projects, numbers, inventory, and resources, to name a few.  All are important things.  But many managers find it very difficult to add people to that mix. Responsibility for people becomes the center of most communication and performance issues.  Some managers also struggle with being “in charge” versus “part of”.  In the role of boss, they feel it necessary to tell subordinates what to do instead of seeking alignment. The result is push back and resistance. 

In contrast, a leader is a visionary.  He or she understands the big picture and works to engage others to join in that point of view and motivates employees to be a part of the process and work toward the common goal.  Leaders work toward alignment and engagement, so employees want to participate and work, rather than be told they have to do something.  

Leaders are confident enough to seek input and opinions from others who work with and for them to gain their buy-in and engage them.  This alignment and engagement leads to empowerment. They are inspired to do more, to be more and to take more responsibility because there is less fear of reprisal.  

There are many managers but fewer leaders.  You need both for an organization to succeed.  Finding people who possess skill in both areas —  and enjoy both — is rare.  Usually a person prefers to work in a leadership role that motivates and deals with just people or a management role that deals with just projects. 

People who have the skills in and enjoy both are the people organizations need to keep at all costs.  With them, alignment and engagement becomes the way of doing business.  You know those organizations when you are in contact with them — everyone is on board and working together toward the common goal.  This doesn’t happen by mistake.  It’s extremely beneficial for organizations to have people who can both lead and manage, because those companies have a much higher levels of success and efficiency.  

That being said, I don’t really believe that leaders are “born”.  Some are more apt to put themselves out there and take on responsibility, but just as many evolve and grow into those positions.  Leadership is more a form of experience, confidence, communication skills and maturity.  Someone may not have the skills early in their career, but as time goes on and they become more proficient, knowledgeable and confident, they evolve into a leadership role.  

Creating a mindset to manage things and lead people also involves periodically stepping back to gain a different perspective so you can effectively move forward.  Leadership, along with alignment and engagement, sets people and organizations up for success. 


Traits to identify potential leaders:


Commitment – to the job and the organization


Accountability – for what needs to be done and action


Reliability – will show up


Responsibility – for their actions and others


Creativity – will look outside the box for solutions 


Strong knowledge base – general and company


Strong morals – maintains a firm moral code


Values – maintains personal and company values


Ethics – acts with care in both personal and professional dealings


Will “step up” and “step out” – will take initiative and move out of their comfort zone


Michael Corcoran has over 30 years’ experience leading sales, service and management teams to consistently meet and exceed organizational goals and expectations.


Learn more about leadership and management from Michael on Sept. 12.