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This Is the Difference between Leading and Managing

A critical component of personal development is understanding the difference between being a manager and being a leader. In the business world, the term “leadership” is often used hand-in-hand with the term “management.” Yet while the terms are interrelated, they are by no means one and the same. There is a difference between leading and managing.

Management functions can provide a strong foundation for leadership, and our leadership qualities can influence our ability to manage. But the terms refer to two different types of skill sets, both of which are an important aspect of your development as a loss prevention professional. Both are distinctive in the way that they influence your performance, and both of which are vital to your long-term success as a business partner.

Focused on maintaining standards, supervising, and establishing controls, management refers to the processes and strategies that are used to accomplish our goals. It is the way that we go about doing things. Management strives for a continuous improvement of what we have; using the systems, processes and technology at our disposal to react and respond to the needs of our business. We use our management skills to establish and maintain our objectives and standards, driving our plan through critical thinking and rational methodology. Strategic planning, intellectual application and analysis, problem-solving, direction, organization, and administration are all guiding principles of effective management.

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By comparison, leadership embraces a different aspect of our personal abilities, and involves the emotional or “human” side of our skill sets. By focusing on people, principles and purpose, leadership allows us to seek out potential rather than simply seeing that which is right in front of us. Leadership requires insight into interpersonal relationships, social influences and team dynamics. It teaches us to connect with our team and focus on our mission. Leadership stokes imagination, confidence, pride, and the will to win. Our leadership skills guide our ability to motivate, influence, persuade and inspire.

The Real Difference between Leading and Managing

Management involves systems, processes and technology.
Leadership deals with interpersonal relationships and social influences.

Management concepts are intellectual and factually focused. Goal setting, tactics, standards and other measurable objectives provide the foundation.
Leadership deals with emotionally charged concepts. Motivation, influence, persuasion and inspiration provide the groundwork.

Management requires the continuous maintenance and improvement of what we have and what is.
Leadership requires the continuous vision to draw on innovation and what could be.

Management provides us with a way of doing things, and doing things right.
Leadership provides us with purpose, and doing the right things.

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Our management skills help us to establish order and control.
Our leadership skills help us to establish guidance and commitment.

We establish our management authority through ranks, positions and other assigned hierarchies.
True leadership is not assigned. It is established and earned by the individual.

Management processes involve problem-solving and strategic planning.
Leadership processes help us to consider the possibilities and practice strategic optimism.

Management processes help us to react and respond to our daily challenges.
Leadership processes help us to be more proactive in dealing with the challenges before they arise and the motivation to deal with challenges when they occur.

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Management is providing direction.
Leadership is serving the team.

Management helps us to work within the rules.
Leadership helps us to work within our values.

Management is the way that we go about doing things.
Leadership deals with how we reach and inspire the individual.

Management helps us to establish standardization and consistency.
Leadership helps us to find innovation and creativity.

Management underscores the importance of effective communications.
Leadership teaches us how to effectively communicate.

Our management practices can help to light a fire under people.
Our leadership practices can help to stoke the fire within people.

Harmonizing Management and Leadership

From a professional development perspective, it is important that we recognize the difference between leading and managing. Some effective managers are not true leaders, and some leaders may fail to effectively manage. But by the same respect, in order to take our professional careers to another level, we must also recognize how important it is to harmonize the concepts of management with the principles of leadership. The skills aren’t parallel; they are complementary.

It would be redundant to argue whether we manage people or we lead people. In order to be successful, we must do both. But true leadership requires that we distinguish the difference between the two and learn to apply our skills in a different way and at a higher level.

If management is the process of defining and measuring success, it is our leadership abilities that set the vision and put the ball in motion. If our leadership skills tell us where we need to go, it is our management skills that provide us with the map and show how to get there. If we truly wish to grow as a professional, we must learn to become more aware of which role we need to play at any given moment.

Each of us has the capacity to influence both what we learn and how we learn it. Your ability to distinguish and apply the principles of leadership will set you apart from those that are merely looking to manage a process.

Are you looking to survive—or excel? Are you looking to maintain—or achieve? A leader learns to manage themselves first. That is the quality that will determine your ultimate success. That character is what defines a leader.

Honing Our Leadership Skills

Leadership isn’t simply something that we share with others; it’s something that we must find within ourselves. It’s not something that we can accomplish by reading a book. It’s not something that we’re handed when we’re promoted to a new position. Leadership grows through a learning process. It is nurtured over time through mentorship and self-confidence. It is a frame of mind, and a course of action.

You have to believe that you have it in you, and you have to be willing to step up to the plate. When we talk about putting together a plan that helps us to develop our leadership skills, we have to start there. A plan finds its foundation in the birth of an idea, and that idea has to become a part of us if we expect it to grow.

Generally speaking, the more we move up the career ladder, the more important that our leadership skills become. Ironically, our management skills are often responsible for helping us climb that ladder. Our ability to execute, organize, structure, plan and process is typically what gets us there.

But leadership is not just a bigger paycheck or a higher position on the company organizational chart—it’s a different perspective.

While leaders and managers do share many of the same traits, leaders take it all a step further. Leadership is more about direction, vision, persuasion and influence, values, image, culture, reaching goals and providing inspiration. Leaders demonstrate their personal convictions through their behaviors, giving them the confidence to make tough judgment calls and the courage to challenge the status quo. That conviction is what enables them to inspire others to follow even when the going is tough, and still uphold the team’s morale.

By capitalizing on opportunities to enhance our knowledge and education, we are making an investment in our own future. To learn more about developing your leadership skills and the certification process, visit

This article was originally published in 2015 and was updated May 15, 2018. 

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