News and How-tos

Leadership versus Management

Leadership is not something you find in an org chart. It’s not a role, a title, or a group of decision-makers. Leadership is something that each and every one of us can and should embody.

The Fallacy

Leadership versus Management

I am writing this article because I keep hearing (and seeing) leadership and management used interchangeably. It is as if people think that naming a box on an org chat “leadership team” imbues the people in that team with magical leadership properties. I hear businesses, government agencies, and even leadership coaches calling the people at the tops of hierarchies “leadership,” as if leadership is an assigned role or group in an organization.

When I see this, I want to proclaim loudly and clearly that THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING. Yes, many people in positions of power and authority embody leadership. No, it is not accurate to call all people in positions of power and authority leaders or leadership.

I am reminded of math logic I learned a very long time ago. I had to look up the name for the fallacy, but I believe I found it. By talking about all managers and people in upper echelons of a hierarchy by calling them leadership, we are committing an association fallacy. It would be the same as saying: because all dogs have fur, and dogs are animals, all animals have fur. What about lizards? Are they not animals?

However, it is even easier to see the breakdown in equivalency because we cannot say ALL managers embody leadership and we cannot say ALL people embodying leadership are managers. Some managers embody leadership and some leaderly people are managers. There is no equivalency here though. We need to stop using leadership as a shortcut word for saying something else (manager, CEO, team captain, etc). Leadership is not the same as power/authority/management or any of those things we keep associating with leadership.

businesswoman-617134_640 by geralt at Pixabay

What is Leadership, Then?

No wonder we get confused between leadership and management, even our dictionaries conflate the two. The following is from


1. the position or function of a leader, a person who guides or directs a group:

He managed to maintain his leadership of the party despite heavy opposition.

2. ability to lead:

As early as sixth grade she displayed remarkable leadership potential.

3. an act or instance of leading; guidance; direction:

They prospered under his strong leadership.

4. the leaders of a group:

The union leadership agreed to arbitrate.


Here’s what we can gather from this: 1) leadership is a noun; 2) leadership is a property of a leader, an act or function of a leader, an instance of leading, or a group of leaders; and 3) leadership has, is, and will continue to be conflated with management, control, administration, etc until we tease them apart and define leadership separate from management.

Business News Daily decided to ask thirty founders, CEOs, presidents, owners, deans, and consultants what their definitions of leadership were. Many reflected the association fallacy. However, several did not. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the article:

“For me, leadership is an act — a decision to take a stand, or step, in order to encourage, inspire or motivate others to move with you. What’s more, the most effective leaders do not rely on their title, or positional power, to lead. Rather, their ability to use their own personal power combined with their use of strategic influence are what make them effective.” – Kendra Coleman, consultant, Sheppard Moscow

“Too many people view management as leadership. It’s not. Leadership comes from influence, and influence can come from anyone at any level and in any role. Being open and authentic, helping to lift others up and working toward a common mission build influence. True leadership comes when those around you are influenced by your life in a positive way.” – Kurt Uhlir, CEO and co-founder, Sideqik

“Leadership is influencing others by your character, humility and example. It is recognizable when others follow in word and deed without obligation or coercion.” – Sonny Newman, president, EE Technologies

If we go from these definitions, leadership is based in influence, not one’s title or rank in a hierarchy.

Your Leadership

Where do you have influence? What kind of influence do you have? What are you doing to have a positive influence in people’s lives? What kind of positive impact can you make with the resources and authority you currently have?

If you need help answering these questions, consider requesting an Essential Leadership workshop, contacting us for coaching, or bringing Essential Explorations to your workplace to facilitate leadership throughout your whole organization.

What’s next?

In an upcoming article, we will look at the reasons we need more leadership in our organizations, from the bottom to the top. We will also address how this applies even more in a world filled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Until then, take some time to reflect on the differences between leadership and management. What skills, abilities, traits, and important functions do both leaders and managers bring to the table?

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