Skip to content

Leadership vs. Management (Understanding the Differences)

6 min

It can be challenging to decipher between genuine leadership and mere management in today's world. In this article, you will learn to spot the differences between the two and learn what it takes to earn the title of a leader.

The subject of leadership is one that I am incredibly passionate about. Following high school, I joined the U.S. Navy to learn how to lead and inspire others. After all, it made sense to "go where the leaders are" to hone my craft and unlock my leadership potential.

The military is much like anywhere else in that it isn't perfect. My time in the service has taught me a lot about life, other people, and even myself in various ways. Before being commissioned as a junior officer in the military while in college, I came across a beautiful book written by one of the great leadership gurus alive today, John C. Maxwell's 5 Levels of Leadership. This book changed how I thought about leading and planted seeds in my mind and heart that would influence the kind of leader I wanted to be.

This book has many excellent quotes and lessons, but perhaps the most significant point I took away was the dichotomy between leadership and management.

Fast forward a few years into active duty service, and I quickly witnessed how the effects of not knowing the differences between the two practices can have a profound and lasting impact on people looking to accomplish tasks as a team.

Leadership and management are fundamentally different. Most institutions prioritize management over leadership nowadays, and the two practices are routinely conflated.


Management is a science and works at its best when things stay the same. It is dependent upon outcomes and, therefore, results-driven. Management has to do with programs and processes. Managers are maintainers relying on systems and controls.

Management is easy to spot. You will hear people say things like "all that matters is doing your job," even when that job requires that we work with many others on a routine basis.

Managers care about the bottom line. In many cases, when responsible for other people, they may often believe that they are leading those people, given their level of responsibility, status within the hierarchy, and the goals they endeavor to achieve.

But leadership requires much, much more from all of us.


Leadership is an art; it is both fluid and dynamic. Leaders are innovators and creators who rely on people. More importantly, leadership is about taking people somewhere; without some sort of journey alongside others, there can be no leadership. It's about inspiring others to champion a cause and investing in them so that they may gift the world with their talents and positive influence.

Because of all this, leadership must require that we consider the thoughts and feelings of others because their successes and well-being will culminate in the team's overall success.

“Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” - John C. Maxwell


I won't sugar-coat it. My time in the military has shown me more bad leaders than good ones. Perhaps it has something to do with how the world was when I first joined up (and is seemingly going), or maybe I need more time to unpack each of my experiences.

Regardless, two issues sit at the heart of why genuine leadership is so difficult to come by in today's world, and that is a woeful lack of emotional intelligence and empathy.


"If your emotional abilities aren't in hand, if you don't have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can't have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far." - Daniel Goleman

Emotional intelligence can be defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

Emotional intelligence is made up of several key ingredients, such as self-awareness, self-motivation, emotional management, the handling of personal relationships, and of course, empathy.

We can be the most intelligent person in the room and have an IQ that is off the charts. Still, if we can't control our emotions or consider the feelings of others as we work and live amongst them, then the successes we will enjoy in life will be exceptionally limited.

"Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that man is here for the sake of other men." - Albert Einstein

Simply put, without emotional intelligence, it is hard to cultivate meaningful relationships with people in the long term, and being a leader means investing in relationships. When it comes to working alongside others, the heart must come before the head, regardless of the work we are involved with. As humans, we are emotional creatures, and good leaders recognize this fact.


Empathy is a powerful tool that is a fundamental and necessary ingredient of any person's overall emotional intelligence. In today's world, I see rigid managers who care only about the results they can enjoy and forget to take care of their most significant asset, their people.

It's challenging to consider the difficulties that others might face. We see people as workers so often that we sometimes ignore what is transpiring in their personal lives.

No one wants to work for someone they can't stand to be around. It makes completing tasks much more painful than is necessary, and we can't truly be fulfilled by the work we do (much less succeed in it long-term) if we don't enjoy it.

I have encountered people who think that the "job" and the "organization's mission" are all that matter. "Feelings" and showcasing empathy is not as important, but that isn't the way of an effective leader. A manager's mentality focuses strictly on the organization's results and nothing more.

Yes, results and productivity are vital to leading because they are the fruits generated by the team's labor, but they aren't all that matter.

If we care only about "getting the job done" and not about the people who help us do the actual work, then we have no business thinking of ourselves as leaders, as such behavior is the antithesis of what it means to lead.

Leadership requires much more from each of us. We don't get to decide what kind of baggage we inherit when we sometimes work with others, just like we don't get to choose any of the circumstances we sometimes face in life.

As leaders, we must mentor, teach, encourage, and uplift our people to function and succeed for themselves and the organization we collectively serve. People in positions of authority struggle with this because it's often tricky. As leaders, more is required of us to safeguard and consider our people's needs on the journies commensurate with our cause.

“Treat people as they are, and they will remain as they are. Treat a person as they could be, and they will become what they should be.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Everyone in this world has value and purpose. Everyone wants to think well of themselves and matter to their communities and the people in them. No matter our circumstances, we each have gifts that can enable us to add value to the world. Leading is about adding value to people and multiplying their positive influences through our mentorship, coaching, and encouragement.

No matter who we are or where we come from, we must find within ourselves the inexplicable truth that we have been afforded much to offer our world, and for leaders to whom much is given, much is required.

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Winning With People by John C. Maxwell

Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie


Subscribe to receive the latest posts in your inbox.