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The differences between leaders and managers

Explore Zaleznik's views on the differences between leaders and managers in this article. Let's explore them.

The concept of management emerged around the 20th century to reduce chaos in an increasingly industrialised society and to make workplace organisation more efficient and effective.

The initial system of management as identified by Fayol (1916, cited in Wren and Bedeian 1994) was aimed at planning, organising, staffing and controlling. These functions can still be found in the management systems of today.

Leadership and management

The terms ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ are often confused. One of the reasons behind this is the fact that these terms are used interchangeably in the workplace, creating substantial overlap (Kotterman 2006).

In the past, some authors had claimed that management and leadership are concepts that are hard to differentiate and are very much tied together (Kotterman 2006). However, there is plenty of research to suggest that there is a definable difference between the two.

The differences between leaders vs managers

The main differences between management and leadership have been illustrated by Kotter (1990), in which he argued that they have different functions. The primary function of management is to ensure order and consistency whereas leadership aims to bring about change and movement.

Other authors have also enriched the narrative by adding their perspectives on what they believe to be the distinction between a leader and a manager. For example, Bennis and Nanus (1985) have famously said that: ‘Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right things.

They suggest that to be a manager is to be an accomplished master of routines and tasks, whereas to be a leader means to influence others and create a vision for change.

Perceptions of managers and leaders

The way leaders and managers are perceived may also tell us about a piece of the puzzle. Often, leaders are seen as charismatic and charming, in stark contrast to managers who often have the ‘boss man’ image which can be quite negative. Zaleznik (1977) argued that managers and leaders are themselves fundamentally different people.

He went on to argue that in managerial interactions there existed unidirectional authority (ie manager to their subordinate) whereas leaders exhibited multidirectional influence with high emotional involvement.

According to Zaleznik, managers:

  • Are reactive
  • Prefer to work with people on problem-solving
  • Act to limit choices

And leaders:

  • Act to expand available options to solve long-standing problems
  • Shape ideas instead of responding to them
  • Are emotionally active and involved


Bennis, W., and Nanus, B. (1985) Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge. New York: Harper & Row

Fayol, H. (1916) ‘Administration Industrielle et Generale’. Bulletin de la Societe de l’Industrie Minerale 5th series, 10 (3). in Wren, D. A., and Bedeian, A. G. (1994) The Evolution of Management Thought. 6th edn. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley, 214

Kotter, J.P. (1990) A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs from Management. New York: Free Press

Kotterman, J. (2006) ‘Leadership versus Management: What’s the Difference?’ The Journal for Quality and Participation 29 (2), 13

Zaleznik, A. (1977) Managers and Leaders: Are They Different? Harvard Business Review May/June, 55 (3), 67-76

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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