Defining Leadership: Do You Manage … or Do You Lead?

What is Leadership?

Some people consider leadership to be the ability to motivate and inspire followers. Others argue that leadership is the ability to get a job done no matter what. Both definitions are true.

Colin Powell said, “The way I like to put it, leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.”

Leadership and management are different but complementary skills. Leadership is a soft talent. It revolves around influence, motivation, drive, and other unquantifiable skills.

Management is a hard skill that is often defined as the science of quantifying a project by evaluating the skills within an organization. Managers create budgets, determine the tasks and subtasks required to meet a goal, keep a project on schedule, and myriad other quantifiable skills.

Effective leaderships leads to accomplishment

Leadership can influence and motivate followers to accomplish not only the set goals but also go far beyond them in creativity, ingenuity, and excellence.

As you study leadership, keep these questions in mind:

The art of leadership has inspired countless attempts to define what it means to be a leader. One of the most concise definitions comes from the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute:

“Leadership is the art of leading others to deliberately create a result that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”

Leadership quotes: famous leaders’ observations on leadership

Every successful leader has a philosophy of leadership. Here are quotes from a few notables:

  • John Quincy Adams: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
  • Indra Nooyi: “Just because you are CEO, don’t think you have landed. You must continually increase your learning, the way you think, and the way you approach the organization. I’ve never forgotten that.”
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”
  • Senator Dianne Feinstein: “Ninety percent of leadership is the ability to communicate something people want.”
  • Kenneth Blanchard: “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”
  • Oprah Winfrey: “The big secret in life is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you’re willing to work.”
  • Steve Jobs: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

How do leadership and management differ?

Leadership and management are different but complementary skills. Leadership revolves around influence, motivation, drive, and other unquantifiable skills. Here are nine traits many great leaders possess:

  • Awareness: The ability to maintain an objective perspective
  • Decisiveness: Spot problems and make difficult decisions
  • Empathy: Express praise in public and address problems in private, with a true concern for the follower
  • Accountability: Take responsibility for everything in their organization, as well as everyone and every decision
  • Confidence: The confidence to follow their plans and get buy-in from others, but a willingness to revisit a decision if it is not successful
  • Optimism: Understand the power of positive behavior and influence their followers to be positive as well
  • Honesty: Moral, ethical, and believe in the Golden Rule
  • Focus: Focus on the end game and continuous improvement on the way there
  • Inspiration: Communicate clearly and effectively and find ways to motivate the members of their team or organization

Basic tasks performed by managers

In contrast, here are five basic tasks that managers perform as described by management consultant and author Peter Drucker:

  • Sets objectives: Define goals and lay out the work that needs to be done
  • Organizes: Divide tasks into manageable pieces and select the team to do the work
  • Motivates and communicates: Make decisions about pay, placement, and promotion by communicating with the team
  • Measures: Define target goals, and analyze, interpret, and appraise performance
  • Develops people:  Determines what knowledge and education each person needs to add to get the job done

Effective leadership can increase an organization’s success and improve the productivity of workers. If done poorly, management can be make life difficult and stressful for workers and harm organizations.

Warren Bennis, a scholar and author who published the classic book “On Becoming a Leader” in 1989, concluded that:

  • Leaders innovate and focus on individuals
  • Managers administer and focus on systems

Peter Drucker wrote, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” In Drucker’s assessment, a leader starts by asking, “What needs to be done?” He noted the increasing prominence of “knowledge workers” and suggested that the new challenge is to lead people rather than manage them.

The Center for Leadership Development describes the contrast this way: “The manager’s job is to plan, organize and coordinate. The leader’s job is to inspire and motivate.”

Types of leadership styles

There are many styles of leadership that fit many types of businesses and organizations. People learn and become motivated in different ways, so effective leaders need to know which styles work best in what situations or organizations.

Many styles share common traits, and multiple studies have narrowed down the key styles of leadership. The Center for Association Leadership identifies eight leadership styles:

  • Charismatic: Charismatic leadership relies on the charm and persuasiveness of the leader, as well as the leader’s self-belief.
  • Innovative: Innovative leadership focuses on inspiring others to think originally, then creates an environment where the ideas can be tested and evaluated.
  • Command and control (bureaucratic): Bureaucratic leadership emphasizes going by the book. Typically, they do not care who wrote the book.
  • Laissez-faire: Laissez-faire leadership focuses on strong relationships and helping followers make the right decisions for the good of the community.
  • Pacesetter (transactional): Transformational leadership relies on order and structure.
  • Servant: Servant leadership focuses on the needs of the individual and holds individuals in high regard.
  • Situational: Situational leadership encourages leaders to take stock of their team members, weigh the many variables in their workplace, and choose the leadership style that best fits their circumstances.
  • Transformational: Transformational leadership focuses on inspiring people to achieve unexpected or remarkable results.

Leadership studies suggest there is no “right” or “wrong” style and that each one works in certain environments.

Examples: leadership styles of famous historical leaders

Successful leaders share many of the same leadership styles, and each individual style is not necessarily independent of one another. Here are various types of leadership, as well as examples of popular figures who embody the characteristics.

Autocratic leadership: Queen Elizabeth I

Born in 1533 to King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth I ruled England for more than four decades. When she ascended to the throne at age 25, she was expected to marry and produce an heir, which many considered the only duty of a female monarch. Queen Elizabeth refused all offers of marriage. Instead, she used experienced advisors and a willingness to dismantle political opponents as autocratic leadership strategies to consolidate her power. Elizabeth I cultivated a beloved public image that allowed her to lead her kingdom through a 45-year period of trade expansion, exploration and colonization, and an arts renaissance.

Bureaucratic leadership: Montezuma II

Montezuma II became emperor of the Aztecs in 1502 after the death of his uncle, Ahuitzotl. During his uncle’s rule, Montezuma was commander of the military, using bureaucratic leadership to guide his army on conquering expeditions that expanded the Aztec territory beyond Mexico to Honduras and Nicaragua. As emperor, Montezuma II established provinces throughout the nation, using their structure to obtain tributes and religious sacrifices from both Aztec subjects and the tribes they’d conquered. Historians estimate that he ruled over six million people for almost 20 years. After Montezuma’s 1519 capture by the Spanish and mysterious death in 1520, the Aztec empire fell.

Charismatic leadership: John F. Kennedy

Although John F. Kennedy was president of the United States for only 1,036 days before being assassinated in 1963, his legacy continues to influence politics. President Kennedy was a gifted orator whose speeches, as The Atlantic described them, “were filled with phrases that seemed designed to be carved in stone.” Although his first year in the White House included several failed attempts to topple Cuba’s Communist regime, President Kennedy used his charismatic leadership style to prevent the U.S. from bombing Cuba and reach a peaceful end to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Many of JFK’s legislative proposals to strengthen civil rights, voting rights, and aid poor and elderly citizens were passed into law after his death.

Democratic/participative leadership: Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower became the 34th president of the United States in 1953 after serving as commanding general of the Allied forces in World War II. His democratic/participative leadership style, skill in coalition-building, and ability to inspire confidence in others led him through two terms as an enormously popular president. He managed postwar military tension with Russia and China while overseeing the U.S. during its highest rate of economic prosperity. President Eisenhower was also an excellent negotiator who brokered the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953.

Innovative leadership: Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs co-founded Apple Computer with Steve Wozniak in 1976. Apple became known for making intuitive, compact personal computers with the debut of the Macintosh in 1984. In the decades that followed, Jobs’s innovative leadership, including his ability to see potential in new technologies, resulted in his investment in Pixar Animation Studios, creation of iTunes for digital music, and production of products, including the iMac, iPod and iPhone. Known as an uncompromising CEO who demanded innovative design and marketing work from his employees, Jobs helped revolutionize digital and personal technology.

Laissez-faire leadership: Ronald Reagan

In his two terms as president of the United States, Ronald Reagan presided over the country’s longest overall period of peacetime prosperity. President Reagan used laissez-faire leadership to entrust many decisions and duties to his administration, which was staffed by highly regarded leaders in their respective fields. Reagan’s charisma and hands-off leadership style earned him the nickname “Teflon President” because scandals in his administration did not affect his immense popularity. President Reagan’s belief in small government and free-market economics made him an enduring role model for many politicians.

Relationship-oriented leadership: Eleanor Roosevelt

From 1933 to 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt used her position as first lady to advocate for social reform, including establishing a minimum wage, strengthening worker protections and abolishing child labor. She traveled the country to evaluate whether New Deal programs were aiding their communities. When she learned that African-Americans did not receive an equal share of relief money due to segregation, Eleanor Roosevelt relayed her findings to her husband. Consequently, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a series of Executive Orders that forbid racial discrimination in New Deal program administration.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s relationship-oriented leadership, grassroots organizing, and powerful public speeches — including radio broadcasts and press conferences — transformed the role of first lady from a ceremonial position to one that could be used to improve citizens’ quality of life.

Servant leadership: Harriet Tubman

After escaping to Pennsylvania from life as a Maryland slave in 1849, Harriet Tubman returned more than a dozen times in order to liberate other African-Americans. In addition to the 60 to 70 people Tubman directly led to freedom, including her siblings and elderly parents, her instructions and network of contacts gave hundreds of others a resource for safe travel to northern states or Canada on the Underground Railroad.

During the Civil War, Tubman served the Union army as a nurse, cook — and spy. In 1863, she was the first American woman to lead a military raid when she guided the Second South Carolina Black regiment up the Combahee River to destroy Confederate stockpiles and free slaves. Harriet Tubman’s servant leadership, heroism and deep spiritual commitment to justice cemented her status as an iconic figure in American history.

Situational leadership: Vince Lombardi

As head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers from 1959 to 1968, Vince Lombardi used situational leadership strategies to lead the once-beleaguered football team to victories that included two consecutive Super Bowl championships. Lombardi was one of the first football coaches to use game film as a tool for improvement (and opposition research). His thorough approach to game analysis, ability to motivate players, and talent for designing plays that maximized his team’s strengths and minimized their weaknesses made him one of the great leaders in professional football.

Transactional leadership: Charles de Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle was born in Lille, France, in 1890. After he graduated from the elite military academy Saint-Cyr, he excelled as an infantry lieutenant World War I. During World War II, de Gaulle’s talent for transactional leadership helped him rise to the rank of brigadier general. He was serving as undersecretary for defense under Paul Reynaud when Reynaud was replaced by Philippe Pétain, who favored Nazi collaboration.

Rather than accept France’s surrender to Germany in 1940, de Gaulle fled to England and became leader of the Free French Forces, urging his country to resist Nazi occupation. In 1959, de Gaulle was elected president of France after forming its new government, the Fifth Republic. De Gaulle was known as an effective leader who appealed to the national identity and patriotism of French citizens.

Transformational leadership: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was the son and grandson of ministers who considered racism an affront to God. His seminary mentor, Benjamin E. Mays, encouraged King to use Christianity as an instrument for social change. In 1955, Dr. King emerged as a civil rights leader after being elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association and continuing the boycott of Montgomery, Alabama, buses, which were segregated by law. For more than 380 days, African-Americans walked to work while withstanding threats, harassment and violence. After the Montgomery federal court ruled that the segregated bus law violated the 14th Amendment, the city repealed the law in 1956.

In 1963, King organized the massive March on Washington, where he made his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. The passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 is noted as one of the many reasons Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize that same year. Dr. King used his transformational leadership skills to continue inspiring African-Americans and their allies to fight for civil rights using nonviolence means until his assassination in 1968.

What does this mean for learning about leadership?

Effective leadership and leaders are often in short supply. Why? Susan J. Herman, University of Alaska Fairbanks management professor, offered a three-part explanation:

  1. Seeing what needs to be done to make things better or seeing a problem that needs fixing
  2. Having the vision, the skill, and the wherewithal to change the system
  3. Mobilizing the energy of others to organize and act in ways to achieve that vision

Succeeding at all three of those parts is a daunting task, but those who pull it off have the opportunity to rise to the highest ranks in their organizations.

Key questions for students of leadership studies

  • How do aspiring leaders learn about becoming more effective?
  • Where can practical knowledge about leadership be acquired?
  • When should transformational and situational leadership be used?

Educational institutions and leadership training programs are an important source of knowledge and skills that can lead to more effective leaders. Learning about the different types of leadership is important regardless of your career path.

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