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Leadership and followership
Leadership and followership

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2 Are leadership and management different or the same?

Authors, business experts, academics and practitioners often give contrasting answers to this question. Some think the two roles are different and others believe they are the same.

A humorous cartoon by Dilbert describing the tensions that sometimes exist between leaders and managers.
Figure 2 Managers and leaders in discussion.

Before you look at some of the different views in the literature – what is your opinion or experience of leadership and management?

Activity 3 Your views of leadership and management

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

In the box below, write some words (e.g. focusing on tasks and competencies) that you would associate with successful:

a) leadership and b) management

Write whatever comes into your head without thinking for too long about it.

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Did you find that you could make a clear distinction between leadership and management? Or did you find you wrote similar or overlapping terms? Does that come from your personal experience or observation of individuals in those roles?


Many authors have sought to make a distinction between leadership and management, suggesting that they are two separate functions, both crucial to organisational success. For example:

  • Zaleznik (1977) writes ‘managers embrace process, seek stability and control, and instinctively try to resolve problems quickly – sometimes before they fully understand a problem’s significance. Leaders, in contrast, tolerate chaos and lack of structure and are willing to delay closure in order to understand the issues more fully.’
  • Kotter (1990) agrees that management is about planning, organising and controlling, while leadership involves establishing direction, aligning and motivating people. He argues this is too much for one person and separate roles are needed if organisations are to flourish.
  • Drawing from the research of Warren Bennis, Roger Gill (2006, p. 27) summarises the differences between managers and leaders as follows in Table 1.
Table 1 The differences between management and leadership
The managerThe leader
Is a ‘copy’Is an ‘original’
Focuses on systems and structureFocuses on people
Focuses on controlInspires trust
Takes a short-range viewHas a long-range perspective
Asks how and whenAsks what and why
Accepts the status quoChallenges the status quo
Is a classic ‘good soldier’Is his or her own person
Does things rightDoes the right thing
(Source: Gill, 2006, p. 27)

The same?

Other experts contend that management and leadership may involve different skills and processes, but don’t need to be done by separate groups of people, and that disassociating them can even be damaging to an organisation. For example:

  • Morgan Witzel (2013), Fellow of the Centre for Leadership Studies, explains that now ‘we have managers who cannot and will not lead, because they believe that leadership is someone else’s responsibility’ and ‘at the other end of the spectrum, we have a cadre of leaders who believe management is beneath them.’
  • Tyler (2007, p. 276) argues that ‘management involves far more than planning, implementation and the exercise of co-ordination and control’. She goes on to explain that ‘Leadership – the ability to communicate a vision, influence others and gain their trust – will be crucial to achieving your objectives as a manager, and in turn, those of the organisation.’
  • The POLC framework is a management tool that categorises the four principle functions of management as Planning, Organising, Leading and Controlling.

Debate will continue, but there are clearly elements of a leader or manager’s role that overlap. This course focuses on leadership skills and processes, which may be relevant to individuals in either leadership or management roles, depending on their job descriptions.

If you are interested in exploring the differences between leadership and management further, there is a great deal of research and commentary available. Start with some of the references cited in this section and see where your reading takes you!

Theoretical frameworks and discussions underpin the work of an effective leader and in Sections 1 and 2, you have started to explore some of that theory. In Section 3 ‘Reviewing your own leadership experience’, you’ll reflect on your practical leadership experience before looking at how the theory might influence your further development.