Image by Natalie Pedigo

Leadership and Management

Leadership Dec 5, 2023

Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, leadership and management are distinct concepts.

I like the analogy that describes leadership as pointing a boat in the right destination, while management is making sure that everyone is rowing together to get there.

A leader ensures a shared vision, and a manager helps everybody execute on that vision.

A leader guides the what and the why. A manager guides the how and the when.


Leadership is a trait or attribute. When there is a leader, there are of course followers. Leaders lead, plain and simple. In a corporate environment, leadership skills and position are often correlated - but not necessarily.

An individual at the bottom of the org chart can "lead by example", and other people follow their lead even if nobody reports to them. Conversely, the person at the top of an org chart can be there by virtue of title only and show such poor leadership skills that nobody actively follows them.

Every company needs a vision and a path to follow. It needs a set of goals that describes where the company is going, and a plan to get there. Good leaders will influence the vision and the plan, but they don’t set it by themselves. Instead they work to make sure the vision is determined collaboratively, ensuring that everyone shares that vision and is invested in it.


Management is the day-to-day effort of making sure that what needs to be done is being accomplished. Managers need to understand the company goals and direction better than anyone else, because they are the ones who coordinate to make sure those goals are being effectively worked towards.

No work can be done without effective individual contributors, and managers help make sure that the work they are doing is the right work. A manager recognizes that not everybody understands the vision in exactly the same ways or has the same view of the plan to get there, so they spend considerable amounts of time making sure everybody is on the same page.

Management typically requires more constant effort than leadership does. Management requires planning, frequent conversations to gauge progress, careful course corrections as necessary, and coordination between different people or groups that are working on individual parts of the big picture.

Managers most often manage people, but they must be comfortable managing systems and processes as well.

Managing as Leaders

In reality, good leaders usually have strong management skills - and good managers are respected by their reports as effective leaders.

In the military, the phrase "lead from the front" is used to refer to a leader who is managing from the thick of it with their team. They're on the front line so they see what is going on, and they have the information and experience to effectively coordinate and manage their teams.

Someone who prefers to "lead from the rear" is more focussed on maintaining the big-picture vision. They want to make sure the group is going in the right direction, but they don't concern themselves with the details and they might not understand the specifics of what their team even does.

Those who lead from the front with good management skills tend to promote better morale. Their active management approach means they have a good view of what everybody is working on and how well they are progressing, and they can use that knowledge and their own expertise to get great results. This type of leader needs to be careful to avoid micromanaging though, and they need to make sure they don't get so bogged down in details that they forget to manage.

Leaders who lead from the rear (or from the golf course) tend to be viewed by their team as being disconnected. Their followers might not have as much respect for their leaders if they don't actually get their hands dirty, or if those leaders don't understand the details of what is being worked on. Their heads-up approach can provide greater clarity for the organization, and traveling to the front lines occasionally to give an inspirational speech might be enough to keep the respect from those troops.


If leadership is about establishing vision, that vision is useless without active management of people and processes to execute on it. Great leaders either have the management skills to help others execute, or they surround themselves with people who do.

Especially in smaller companies, the shoulder-to-shoulder "we are all in this together" approach of leading from the front is critical. Leaders at a small company or a startup absolutely must earn the trust of their people by sharing in the day-to-day labor and struggles of building something from the ground up.

Sometimes leadership is what makes the difference, and sometimes management is what makes the difference. Knowing when to apply the skills and traits of one over the other and how to mix them will be instrumental in helping you and your companies be successful.