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Management vs. Leadership: Key Differences You Need to Know

Picture this: you’ve finally been promoted to a managerial position within your marketing team. As you start your new role, you realize that there’s a lot more to it than just delegating tasks and overseeing projects. Now, you’re responsible for guiding, inspiring, and leading your team to success. But what exactly is the difference between being a manager and being a leader?

A surprising statistic reveals that 48% of employees regard their organization’s leadership as being of “high quality.” Ouch. In this article, we’ll explore the key distinctions between management and leadership. You’ll know only understand the differences but also how to help your team thrive.

Focus: Managers maintain, leaders innovate

One of the primary differences between management and leadership is their focus. Managers are primarily concerned with maintaining the status quo. They ensure that their team’s day-to-day tasks are completed efficiently. They also concentrate on executing strategies and achieving short-term goals.

In contrast, leaders have a more innovative approach, focusing on the long-term vision and direction of the team. Leaders identify new opportunities and embrace change. They also encourage their team to think creatively to overcome challenges and drive growth.

For example, a social media manager may focus on ensuring their team is posting on schedule and reaching their KPIs. A leader would be focused on new social tactics that would elevate the overall performance, even if it involves taking risks.

Communication: Managers direct, leaders inspire

Effective communication is essential in both management and leadership roles. However, the style of communication can vary significantly between the two. Managers tend to be more directive in their communication: they provide clear instructions and expectations to their team members.

Leaders focus on inspiring and motivating their team through their communication. By sharing their vision and passion, they encourage team members to contribute ideas and collaborate towards shared goals.

While both methods can be effective, encouraging your team to be communicative keeps new ideas flowing. It also builds trust.

Authority: Managers rely on hierarchy, leaders earn respect

Speaking of trust, for many managers, authority often comes from their position within the company hierarchy. Managers have the power to assign tasks, evaluate performance, and make decisions on behalf of their team. This can intimidate team members and isolate managers.

Leaders earn their authority through the respect and trust of their team members. They lead by example, demonstrating integrity, competence, and empathy. In turn, they gain the loyalty and commitment of their team.

Approach to problem-solving: Managers find solutions, leaders empower others

When faced with challenges, managers typically focus on finding solutions themselves. They analyze the situation, identify potential courses of action, and make decisions to address the issue. According to the Vroom-Yetton-Jago model, they are directive.

Leaders, in contrast, empower their team members to solve problems collaboratively. They foster a culture of open communication and creative thinking. They encourage their team to take ownership of challenges and develop innovative solutions. They are delegators.

For example, say you need to work on a new media campaign that includes TV, social, and content. A manager may gather information, develop a plan, and instruct their team on how to implement it.

A leader would encourage their team to develop a plan based on their expertise. By delegating, the team develops problem-solving skills, has ownership, and has buy-in on the plan they’ll be executing.

Professional development: Managers train, leaders mentor

Ensuring team members receive the necessary training and resources to perform their jobs is a manager’s responsibility. Managers identify skill gaps and provide opportunities for professional development. This is often done via workshops or online classes.

Leaders take a more personal approach to professional development, acting as mentors to their team members. Mentors share knowledge, provide guidance, and support team members in achieving their personal and professional goals. Some go further and become sponsors, using their own social equity to lift their mentees.

Motivation: Managers use extrinsic rewards, leaders foster intrinsic motivation

Managers often rely on extrinsic rewards, such as bonuses, promotions, or recognition, to motivate their teams.

These tangible incentives can be effective in driving short-term performance and productivity. How often have you scoffed when a manager thought that was enough to keep you motivated?

Leaders focus on fostering intrinsic motivation within their team members. They help their team understand the purpose and impact of their work. They also create an environment where individuals feel valued, engaged, and inspired to contribute.

Help team members reconnect with their initial passion for marketing. Their work has a greater purpose beyond meeting deadlines and hitting targets. Emphasize personal growth, autonomy, and the satisfaction of overcoming challenges as key motivators.

Risk-taking: Managers minimize risk, leaders take calculated risks

Managers tend to be more risk-averse. Everyone wants to avoid surprises, and managers often prioritize predictability and control. This allows them (and their teams) to maintain a steady course toward their objectives.

Leaders, on the other hand, understand that risk-taking is often necessary for innovation and growth. They’re willing to take calculated risks. They challenge conventional wisdom and push the boundaries of what’s possible. Leaders encourage their teams to experiment with new ideas and approaches. They see failure as a valuable learning opportunity.

Identifying opportunities to take risks takes practice, but it is a valuable exercise. It not only pushes the boundaries of your team but can also elevate your marketing strategies.

Performance evaluation: Managers assess results, leaders evaluate growth potential

When evaluating their team’s performance, managers primarily focus on tangible results. These include campaign performance metrics, project completion, or meeting deadlines. They use quantitative metrics to assess individual and team performance, as well as to provide feedback and guidance.

63% of millennials report that their employers aren’t nurturing their leadership abilities for managerial roles. When managers only focus on quantitative metrics of performance, they miss cues of who are good candidates for promotion.

Leaders, while still valuing results, place a greater emphasis on evaluating the growth potential. They consider factors such as adaptability, creativity, and collaborative skills. They recognize that these qualities are essential for long-term success.


Even though 83% of organizations recognize the importance of cultivating leaders at all levels, only 5% of them actually teach leadership skills to everyone. For marketing professionals who want to grow in their careers, it’s important to know the differences between management and leadership. Both roles need skills like communication, decision-making, and problem-solving, but they use these skills in different ways. When you learn what makes each role special, you can change how you work and build the skills to do well in any leadership or management job in marketing.


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