Leadership vs. Management

December 15, 2019

Leadership and management are terms often used equally. But I think there are a lot of differences between leadership and management. When I started out in business, I regularly read Harvard Business Review for its management tips. While I didn’t go to business school, I thought I could learn from one of the most prestigious universities in the country.

In 1977, Abraham Zaleznik wrote an article for Harvard Business Review. In it he stated that both leaders and managers make valuable contributions to an organization. But each one’s contribution is different. Mr. Zaleznik has written quite a few books since that time; many are still in print.

You can think of leadership and management like this.



advocate change and new approaches

advocate stability and the status quo

are concerned with understanding people’s beliefs and gaining their commitment

carry out responsibilities, exercise authority, and worry about how things get accomplished

Not all good managers are good leaders. And not all good leaders make good managers. The skill set requirements for leadership are different from management. Leaders focus on a vision and select the right team with the proper skills to implement that vision.

I boil this down to an essential mantra: Leaders lead people and managers manage tasks processes. This has greatly helped me. If you’re a leader, you’re asked to manage and to lead. But you need to focus on leadership.

Frustrated Leader

 Technical expertise is not enough to be a leader

In IT, not everyone wants to be a manager. The standard in many companies, however, is to promote those with technical expertise into management. Those people are expected to perform management tasks, including people management. This leads to a well-known phenomenon called the Peter Principle. The Peter Principle observes that the tendency in most organizational hierarchies is for every employee to rise in the hierarchy through promotion until they reach a level of respective incompetence. It’s easy to do if you give a person a role with tasks they have no interest or the skill set to perform.

Giving someone budget, salary and people management responsibilities may not be the right answer.

Many exceptionally talented IT people love the engineering side of the business and are happy to get more money, but they really should not be promoted to management if they have no interest in it at all. They can still be leaders without management responsibilities.

Management is an organizational process. Inherent in this responsibility is setting guidelines, establishing service levels, setting standards and dealing with change. A good manager can bring a degree of order and continuity to key dimensions such as quality and profitability.

As management focuses on control and process, leadership begins with the establishment of a vision, which is directional. Strategy is the next phase of leadership. When you know where to go, you need to think about how to get there. Then you communicate your vision. This allows you to motivate and empower the vision.

Leader Presenting to Team

 Leading is directing and motivating people

Leadership is strategic and involves strong people skills. After all, you’re leading people. Management is tactical and involves strong process skills.

Leadership is about consensus building, direction, influencing and motivating. Management is task oriented and about getting things done.

If you’re a manager, you need both leadership and management skills. But don’t confuse the two. Leadership is what the company is looking for; management tasks will serve you well in processes and tactical decision making.

Below are functions and characteristics of leadership and management.










Problem solving

Connecting the dots

Task oriented



Knowing the differences between leadership and management allows you to go out there, create your vision, motivate your team and lead them forward.

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