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What’s the Difference Between Leadership & Management?


I run an in-house event team. In my last review, when I asked what it would take to get promoted to the next level, my boss said I needed to go beyond just ‘managing’ my team, and to start demonstrating ‘leadership’ (e.g. thought leadership), though of course she couldn’t provide many examples. What exactly is the difference, and how can I go about showing it?


There are definite differences between leading and managing a team. However, people are often asked to do both in the course of their jobs, which is where it can get murky. In general:

  • Management involves keeping the trains running on time, overseeing the operation of the business as it currently exists. The focus is now, the tools are tactical, and the goal is consistency and execution.
  • Leadership involves looking ahead at changes facing the business and industry and presenting a vision for leading the team forward. The focus is the future, the tools are strategic, and the goal is growth and innovation.

Juggling Management & Leadership Roles

Most jobs require the exercise of both leadership and management skills, though often at different times. In sports, a team’s coach/manager acts in a leadership role when she inspires the players with a pep talk and develops a strategic game plan; she acts in a management role when she coaches players on specific skills, and executes that game plan.

The key is to recognize what balance is needed and when you’re intentionally providing a leadership or management role for your team. Some examples:

  • Management task examples include running staff meetings and giving performance feedback. This requires someone with good organizing, delegating and coaching skills.
  • Leadership task examples include scanning industry & general news for potential disruptions facing your business/department, attending conferences, and developing a strategy to succeed in the future. This requires someone skilled at seeing the big picture, inspiring a vision, and building a culture.

Demonstrating Thought Leadership

Since thought leadership is about, well, innovative thinking, demonstrating it requires you to share that thinking with others in meetings, calls, emails, articles, etc. Here are some ways you can do this.

  • Follow innovative thinkers, inside and outside your industry. Forward insightful blog posts, articles or videos to your colleagues. Bonus points: tell people how the topic might affect your department.
  • Challenge the status quo. Ask questions like, “If we were to design this department/event/business from scratch today, would we be doing things the same way? If not, why?”
  • Think of an innovative person or brand. What would they do differently if they were in charge of your events or business unit?
  • Get clients to identify clear business goals for your events. Think about ways to achieve them more cost-effectively. Bonus points: be prepared to suggest restructuring the event, shifting some or all of it to a virtual platform, or even cancelling it altogether if that’s where the analysis takes you.