How Leadership Is Different From Management

This is one of those questions that can be difficult to answer. Not because the question is complex or difficult. It’s more to do with the fact that what is leadership in one person’s eyes is management in the eyes of another.

So what’s my perspective on this? I think there are number of key differences.


Managers spend a lot of their time making sure that things get done, processes work well, appraising staff, reporting upwards, briefing downwards. They focus on the day to day operational activities that are vitally important to their organisation.

Leadership on the other hand should be about looking forward, identifying trends, initiating change, making future focused decisions, dealing with competitive threats or changing preferences.

For those moving into leadership this can be tough. Rather than being very hands on, the role is more about orchestrating, winning over others and achieving results through others.


When in a leadership role the expectations of you are much greater. These expectations come from a much broader range of stakeholders.

Some assume that because you are in a leadership role you will obviously have expertise in everything. This as we know is not realistic. There are going to be areas where you excel and areas where you don’t. Building the right team around you counts.


The challenges or problems that you face as a leader are significantly greater. These challenges can sometimes be overcome by a willingness of several groups of people to come together and set aside individual priorities.

I experienced this personally when working at a senior level in Finance in the National Health Service (NHS). Making best use of resources available required some tough choices. Whatever decision was reached was going to have objections from elsewhere. It was a difficult balancing act.

Similar challenges arose when it came to tackling emergency patient flows. Dealing with this group of patients effectively did not just depend on having space in the emergency department. Beds had to be available on wards.

At times the availability of beds was a real challenge. This could be due to a sickness bug meaning patients could not be admitted to certain parts of the hospital. At other times there were delays in discharging patients who were medically fit to go home because they required access to some form of support package or perhaps needed to go to a nursing home.

The key point I am making is that these are not challenges that can be overcome instantly. They also tend to be the type of challenges that had significant implications on organisational reputation.


In short the buck stops with you. At the end of the day if you are in a leadership role, the stakes are much higher. Just look at the financial pages of any quality newspaper and you will see plenty of evidence of CEO’s, Chairman and CFO being removed as a result of failing to deliver on performance or profit targets.

This creates a lot of stress and strain on people. Some thrive and some struggle with this. Some underestimate the impact of on them personally of being accountable for results.

Duncan Brodie of Goals and Achievements helps professionals step up to leadership roles.