Leadership and management - the basics

Leadership or management? What's the difference?

If we are to become effective workplace leaders and managers we need to acquire the necessary skills and competencies. In order to do that we need to understand what we mean by the terms.


We could spend hours debating the various definitions and differences between the two, but that's not the best use of your time. Much has been written on the subject and unsurprisingly, opinions vary! What is important though is to quickly acquire an understanding of the key elements so that we can get on with learning and applying the skills that make good leadership and management possible.


There are many definitions of both leadership and management from which to choose, but what follows will serve us well as we seek to build our capabilities.

Leadrship and management graphic

Copyright: rawpixel, www.123RF.com


Leadership is the process by which a person causes others to willingly follow in the pursuit of a common belief, goal or task.

Let's look at some key points:​

  • 'Others follow'- that means if there are no followers, then by definition there is no leadership!

  • 'Willingly'- people are not forced to follow

  • 'Common goal or task'- the goal is understood, accepted and shared

  • The task of leadership could in theory be exercised by a body, not just an individual ('the leadership team')


Management is the process by which a person directs and controls the accomplishment of an undertaking or task

Let's look at some key points again:​

  • 'Directs and controls'- the extent of the direction or control could well vary according to the capabilities or seniority of those involved

  • 'The accomplishment of an undertaking'- management is about getting things done

  • The task of management could in theory be exercised by a body, not just an individual ('the management team')

So what are the differences between leading and managing?

Leading is about inspiring and motivating people to to get behind a belief, goal or task; whereas managing is about the planning, supervision and control of the resources (including people) neccessary to get something done

There is no doubt that there is considerable overlap between the two activities of leading and managing at work; a potentially over-simplistic conclusion might be that leadership is more to do with people, and managing is more to do with work. But even this statement is dangerous, as everyone who is responsible for people knows that making sure they remain motivated to get the work done to a high standard is a key part of 'managing' them.

Management has often been described as Planning, Organising, Motivating and Controlling. Whilst the definition may sound rather dated, it does provide a reasonable clue as to the skills that the manager is going to have to deploy as he or she goes about the work.

The highly respected leadership expert John Adair showed through his work on 'Action Centred Leadership' how the leader has to balance the requirements of the task (getting the work done); the team (getting them to work together in pursuit of the task); and the individual (looking after the specific needs and motivations of his/her people).  Adair, J., Action-Centred Leadership, McGraw-Hill.


Whilst some might argue that Adair's work of that time is somewhat dated, it is hard to fault the logic behind it. It  further underlines the overlap of the role of leaders and managers in the workplace. There is a review of a more recent leadership book by Adair in the Resources section.

'Management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things.'
Peter Drucker
Managing and leading tgether produce great results

Can leadership and management be learned?

As you will see when you explore this site, great leadership and management happens when strong values that result in certain behaviours are combined with proven processes and capabilities. My belief is that one can learn what needs to be done, and one can learn the processes and techniques that will help you to get it done. That's what this site is for. But whether or not you choose to apply what you have learned is of course up to you. Fundamentally and if you agree with them, a failure to apply the lessons can only be down to a lack of disciplined effort. And even then, much can be done to improve the likelihood that the required disciplined effort will be forthcoming.


Use a journal

We know that documenting your goals and a detailed plan of action will improve your chances of success. That's why I strongly suggest that starting today you set up a journal into which you record your goals, your action plans and your notes relating to your self development. You review it and add new notes every day. Why do this? Because it works! Use quality notebooks for the purpose - you are going to be referring back to them as you grow, and it will make you feel better recording and reviewing your plans and notes in something that will endure.

Getting help with your self-development

We also know that sharing your goals and plans with others and creating accountability to them, as well as to yourself, will substantially increase the likelihood of success. That's why I am big advocate of getting others involved in your growth plans. It could be a loved one, or a mentor or coach - someone wise whose opinion you trust and who will be honest and direct with their feedback. That's why so many slimming groups require that you turn up each week and get weighed! The process puts extra pressure on you to meet your weight loss goals.

A third source of help comes from articles and books. I have therefore included some recommendations where appropriate.


More about this and getting help in the Resources section.

Keeping a journal

Copyright: Karuna EM, www.123RF.com

Great leadership

The holy grail of leaders and managers everywhere! But what do we mean when we talk about great leadership at work, and who exactly are these leaders anyway? 

Quite simply, a leader is anyone who fulfils the role! Whether or not you have been appointed to a position of leadership, or you have assumed one without anyone else's permission, you are, or are not a leader depending on whether others follow you!

That means a leader may be the CEO of a large company, or someone that a few people look to in order to represent their interests or provide informal guidance, even if that person has no authority within the organisation.


In the former example, our CEO is called Jim. Jim has been in the job for a couple of years, but has not done well. The company appears to be pursuing a strategy that isn't working, and Jim has earned the reputation of being unfair and unpleasant. Good people are leaving in large numbers. Is Jim a leader? Even though he has the title, and people have a right to expect high standards of him, Jim is clearly not acting as a good leader.


In the latter example, think about someone working in a retail store. Let's call her Jane. Jane is not a manager but is a thoughtful person who is good at expressing herself. She is fair and has high standards. For this reason her colleagues often ask her for advice, or to represent them when they want to bring something to the attention of the boss. Is Jane a leader? You bet she is! Maybe her employer will spot Jane's talents and offer her a promotion.

A great leader is someone who fulfils the highest expectations of the leadership role, regardless of whether they have been formally assigned. The expectations will likely vary according to the role. If you want to be a great leader, start fulfilling people's expectations of one.

Leadership roles

We can see that the requirements of a leader will vary according to the role that they have assumed. They are going to be different for the CEO of Tesco compared to someone who supervises a team of shelf stackers in one of the stores. Despite that, there is a great deal of common ground between the two and we are able to describe a standard four step approach that sets out what someone has to do in order to become a successful workplace leader. We are going to call these practices the foundation stones of great workplace leadership. By understanding and applying them, anyone can become an effective and respected leader. More of that later, but first we need to talk about something even closer to your heart- you!


See the page The Bedrock Of Great Leadership for more.