Leadership v Management

Updated: Jun 17

This article explores the differences between leadership and management and the qualities and benefits of each.


Management and leadership are two very distinct concepts, and each must be carefully considered in order to be appreciated.


Terina Allen, CEO of ARVis Institute, international keynote speaker and Forbes columnist, defined management as ‘the act or skill of directing, controlling, handling, deciding, overseeing...’ and described leadership as being ‘about influencing, developing, coaching, guiding, mentoring or supervising people.’ Both management and leadership require different skill sets; therefore, not all managers can be leaders and vice versa.


One of the fundamental differences between management and leadership in a business context is the fact that management is concerned with administration, ensuring the day-to-day running of a business is both efficient and profitable. Whereas, leadership is primarily concerned with influencing people (often referred to as ‘followers’) to understand and believe in the vision you have for a business and to inspire them to work alongside you to achieve your goals. Followers can be anyone you influence, including your peers, subordinates, colleagues or even those higher up in the hierarchy.


The late Warren Bennis, an author and former professor at the University of Southern California, is one of the most notable figures in the field of leadership studies. Bennis theorised that those who are to be judged as being true leaders understand themselves, possess both a vision and an ability to interpret and translate that vision to their followers and be able to create an environment of trust and confidence. Bennis described 13 traits of both leaders and managers:



Leaders have a vision of what they believe is possible and inspire and engage their followers in order to develop that vision into a reality. They use their leadership abilities to inspire and encourage their followers to become part of something bigger, thus instilling confidence in their followers, which, in turn, promotes productivity and increased profitability. Leaders appreciate that a productive workforce has the ability to accomplish more in such a collaborative environment, than as individuals working autonomously. Whereas, managers tend to focus on setting, measuring and achieving goals. They thrive on controlling situations so as to achieve or surpass their goals and objectives, which often does little to encourage or instil confidence in the workforce, therefore, reducing productivity and, conversely, profitability.


One can appreciate the need for a hierarchy in business, particularly in a law firm setting. However, few people rarely appreciate being directed or controlled and given instructions in a direct manner (a typical tendency of managers), although it is appreciated that direct instruction is needed in certain situations. People are more likely to respond positively and more productively to influence and guidance rather than direct instruction, which has a control element. It is essential to appreciate that individuals have their own minds and make their own choices, and it is, therefore, rarely beneficial to attempt to control individuals.


Leaders assist individuals in achieving extraordinary results. Leadership is concerned with developing individuals’ process improvement, critical thinking and problem-solving skills and then creating opportunities for them to apply these skills and have an input on decisions. They build loyalty and trust from their followers by consistently delivering on their promise.


Leaders encourage and welcome change and are accepting of the fact that changes to systems, policies and procedures often create waves, particularly among the workforce. Leaders always see improvement wherever they turn, even when everything appears to be working perfectly, and continue to strive to make changes for the benefit of a business as a whole. In contrast, managers shy away from change and keep to familiar ground.


Leaders do not imitate; they are individualistic, authentic, self-aware, transparent and comfortable in their own skin. Managers, however, have a tendency to assume leadership styles of others and simulate their competencies and behaviours, rather than working to define their own.


Leaders are often said to be risk-takers, embracing problems that arise along the way and exploiting their failures as learning opportunities. Whereas managers are known to be risk-averse and actively seek to avert or manage problems.


Key Leadership Skills in a Law Firm Environment


In order to be a successful leader in a law firm, I believe one should possess not only ambition, passion and drive for the firm, but also a keen sense of people - the ability to understand individuals’ emotions, body language and what motivates them. Individuals are the beating heart of a leader, as without a following, they simply cannot be a true leader. The importance of this skill cannot be underestimated, as those in senior positions who are responsible for supervising and, dare I say it, ‘managing’ others, have the power and ability to set the environment around them by the way they conduct themselves and interact with both colleagues and clients alike. Those who possess this skill have the potential to boost a firm’s productivity and client satisfaction, thereby increasing the overall profitability of the firm.


Creativity and innovation are also skills which I consider to be essential in a law firm environment. Creativity is often a skill which lawyers acquire and develop through their career’s infancy by finding creative ways to assist their clients and further their requirements. It is this skill as a leader in a law firm that will prove beneficial, as putting such a virtue to good use in this environment can reap in rewards, the main one being profitability. For example, creating new innovative ways to deliver legal services to its client base will inevitably increase the firm’s attractiveness to potential new clients but also increase client satisfaction overall. Firms with traditional marketing strategies will undoubtedly welcome a leader who has the ability to be creative when it comes to marketing.


Finally, another crucial skill of a leader in a law firm is respect. Not necessarily the respect others have for the leader, but the respect the leader has for everybody else. A leader’s ability to be respectful can have a detrimental effect on any business, but particularly concerning law firms and other similar professions where title and qualifications can sometimes lead to a disjoint in the workforce. It is important for leaders to be respectful to the people they interact with, both inside and outside the firm. If respect is promoted within a firm environment, the recognition of potential, regardless of status, is self-evident. There is no monopoly on intelligence.


It has been known for people to diminish management as being inferior to leadership or, similarly, elevate leadership as being superior to management. However, the truth is that both competencies add value and need to be demonstrated within organisations and throughout society.


Although I have tailored the contents of this article to a law firm environment, the same principles apply equally to all business environments.

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