Identifying the Key Differences
Between Leadership and Management Skills

Current State

Brandon Hall Group™ research shows that many organizations equate management with leadership and believe developing leaders’ management competencies are more important than competencies such as emotional intelligence.


We see management and leadership competencies as separate and distinct. Employees follow managers because they have to; managers are in a position of authority. Employees follow leaders because they want to. The ideal goal is to have a great manager who is also a great leader. But someone can be a great leader without being a manager.

Leadership is what moves organizations forward. It drives engagement and talent retention and gives employees a sense of belonging and feeling valued. Management gets things done. That’s important but leadership defines an organization’s culture and its ability to thrive and adapt.



There is only one major overlapping capability between a manager and leader: communication. Every other major skill set is different (and even the level of communication is different). Here is how we see it:




They establish and maintain processes, prioritize work for themselves and others, and generally keep their teams on track.



Managers must be able to give direction provide feedback and explain and collaborate effectively with everyone they work with. They should know how to resolve conflicts. They tend to be focused more on details than on the big picture.



They must anticipate large and small problems and be ready with ideas and solutions. They keep on top of details so their teams can remain productive.


Time managers

They need to be able to get things done — and on time — and help others manage their time as needed. Good managers can multitask, navigate myriad changes and still hit their goals.



Managers need to get work done but also know how to assign work to others, provide direction when needed then trust them to get it done well.




While managers oversee day-to-day operations, leaders are more focused on mission and vision, and the overall direction of the culture, the department or the entire organization. Leaders can be good managers and still be visionary, but they are distinct competencies and doing both well is relatively rare.



Leaders ask questions and are hungry for answers. They want to understand people and situations around them and how to improve them. They tend to be innovators because they are constantly seeking new ways to do things.



This is the one crossover skill between managers and leaders, but the focus is different. Leaders are more focused on enabling, empowering and encouraging. They are good listeners and coach team members by asking questions and motivating them to seek answers. The best leaders inspire through their interactions and their connections with their people.


Emotionally intelligent

For leaders to inspire people to follow them — as opposed to instructing them to follow — they need a high level of emotional intelligence. This means they empathize with others, are self-aware, can regulate their emotions, are humble and know how to mitigate their biases and open themselves to new ideas.



The most successful leaders are highly accountable. They view themselves as responsible for themselves and everyone in their sphere of influence. Leaders don’t view their team members as keeping them from doing their jobs; they view leading as their job.



Only about half of organizations believe their leaders have the emotional intelligence and other leadership competencies to successfully drive business goals. Among the top reasons is that leadership programs focus too much on management skills and not enough on foundational leadership skills.

In our research, organizations are split about 50-50 on whether there should be one leadership model in which the same foundational skills are taught at all levels of the organization or whether different skills should be taught depending on level. Believing in the latter means you are conflating leadership and management skills. Leadership skills are universal; management skills are differentiated more by level and function.


Critical Questions

  • What type of leaders do we need to succeed in today’s disruptive work environment?
  • As an organization, are we equipped to develop future leaders? If not, why not?
  • Do we need assistance from outside organizations (consultants, third-party providers, et al.) to elevate our leadership program to achieve the appropriate business impact?


Brandon Hall Group POV

Organizations need great leaders and great managers but the competencies are different and should not be lumped together. Management skills are easier to teach than leadership skills. Developing leadership skills often involves significant behavior change and practice in a variety of settings, along with effective coaching and wise mentorship.

Leadership development needs to be focused on all levels. Traditionally, organizations focused much more on executive and senior leaders than on mid-level and frontline leaders who have more direct influence and impact on their teams, and have had less experience and require training, guidance and coaching.

Thankfully, that is changing. You can see it in the priorities organizations are setting for leader improvement.

Like what you see? Share with a friend.

Claude Werder



Stay connected

Get notified for upcoming news subscribing

Related Content

Claude Werder

Claude J. Werder Senior Vice President and Principal Analyst, Brandon Hall Group Claude Werder runs Brandon Hall Group’s Talent Management, Leadership Development and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) practices. His specific areas of focus include how organizations must transform culturally and strategically to meet the needs of the emerging workforce and workplace. Claude develops insights and solutions on employee experience, leadership, coaching, talent development, assessments, culture, DE&I, and other topics to help members and clients make talent development a competitive business advantage now and in the evolving future of work. Before joining Brandon Hall Group in 2012, Claude was an HR consultant and also spent more than 25 years as an executive and people leader for media and news organizations. This included a decade as the producer of the HR Technology Conference and Expo. He helped transform it from a small event to the world’s largest HR technology conference. Claude is a judge for the global Brandon Hall Group HCM Excellence Awards and Excellence in Technology Awards, contributes to the company’s HCM certification programs, and produces the firm’s annual HCM Excellence Conference. He is also a certified executive and leadership coach. He lives in Boynton Beach, FL.

Resubscribe to our email distribution list.