There’s a common misconception that most managers are leaders. This is often true, but there are key differences in the leadership vs management debate that are worth recognising to create better work environments.

According to leadership coach Doc Norton, ‘The best managers are leaders, but the two are not synonymous’. Having managers that are also great leaders makes for a productive working environment, and helping managers become great leaders is an underrated skill.

So, how can you develop your management team by strengthening their leadership skills? In this article, we look at the difference between leadership vs management, what being a better leader means to the workplace, and how leadership skills can help you create a better succession plan that can identify and foster future leaders at your company – not just at the top, but for major roles at all levels.

Think like a ship’s captain

A leader with the skills to empower employees is often cited as having vision and being able to help others follow it, as in this UK government article. These leaders are innovative in how they think, are emotionally intelligent, inspirational and empathetic. They use their leadership skills to help others see things the way they see things, and can set goals and provide clarity when tasks or projects become murky or complicated. Think of them as the captain of the ship, who has laid out plans for a great adventure on the high seas.

A manager is driven to achieve the captain’s goals. They use their management skills strategically, adhere to plans, and ‘connect people to the purpose of their work and help them understand why their work is important’. They are often responsible for ensuring the ship leaves port and docks safely at the next one, managing the crew along the way.

This is a simplistic way to describe the differences between leaders and managers, but it’s effective as a basic overview. For instance, imagine the two skill sets merged as one, and how much more effective your managers would be.

Management skills alone are great. Combined with leadership skills, you can as a leader begin to nurture managers who can create people-oriented as well as task-oriented environments. The key to developing visionary managers is in how they perceive their roles in the workplace, and how they can improve self-awareness.

Developing leadership skills

The best leaders, according to the world’s ‘finest business schools’, are self-aware, and self-awareness is one of the core tenets of authenticity, according to The Institute of Leadership & Management. Self-aware leaders are not fenced in by the belief that being the boss is all-important. With self-awareness at the centre of developing as a manager, the following five golden practices are easier to digest.

Leaders can develop better management teams by underlining the virtues of self-awareness, so managers can:

  1. Understand their personality. They will become more open to feedback and begin to see themselves the way others do. They will develop the resilience that enables them to process and embrace what others say about them, and use feedback to improve.
  2. Help people more. When we become obsessed with tasks and processes, we forget to be nice to people. We’re all human, and many people are bored or frustrated with what they do. Guiding your management team to reflect on people’s day-to-day tasks is time well spent, and develops empathy.
  3. Think big and dare to dream. It’s okay to daydream, which is where some of our best ideas come from. Those people who take the time to think and reflect can become better leaders, so encourage your management team to take their time and not jump into things too quickly. Managers who master this may come up with some great ideas for how to improve the organisation, or listen more intently to those who have great ideas.
  4. Communicate better. There are many ways to communicate, and this Aston University article reveals some sobering statistics about the effects of poor manager communication. In helping managers understand different communication types, they can hone their skills and adapt to different personalities. 
  5. Practise daily. Managers can read countless books about leadership skills, but without self-awareness and being around leaders who lead by example, it can lead to nothing. Try to encourage managers to see and appreciate the rewards of self-awareness, and be honest about it taking time and practise to master.

By using these tips, leaders can help managers begin to know themselves more. As they do so, they may even learn to embrace new obstacles along the way, seeing them as learning opportunities rather than problems.

How managers as leaders work at work

A study published in the National Library of Medicine found that there are three themes for leadership that ‘employees consider contribute towards a healthy work environment – what leaders do, how they do it and who they are’.

People want different things from their managers, and making sure you’re able to balance individual needs can be complicated. After all, you must also balance the needs of the organisation. This is why developing strong leadership skills in your management team is the best way to create a more effective, efficient and happy working environment.

That same study found that employees want leaders who are confident and responsible, who can manage change ‘through trustful interaction’. Managers who can solve problems are good, but managers who can see difficulties ahead of time are better. They should ask themselves whether their core skills are in being reactive or proactive.

Questions like this are reflective, which is why helping managers become more self-aware is essential in taking their skills to the next level.


Organisations around the world have had to adapt to immense change because of the pandemic and remote working practices. During the pandemic, mental health problems in the UK worsened across all age groups. These are anxious times for many people, whether we’re remote working or office-based. And when employees feel the elevated effects of burnout, it can be devastating for their overall health. Organisations may feel the knock-on effects, too. The Mental Health Foundation says 12.7% of all sickness absence days can be attributed to mental health conditions, and this pre-pandemic statistic reveals that ‘poor mental health costs the economy up to £99bn a year’.

When we’re stressed about life, we pass it on to others. We often take it to work. And because we’re human, managers are not immune to its effects. But this is where senior leaders can help in developing better management teams. By instilling the value of self-awareness, empathy, reflection, communication and regular practice, leaders can help managers hone their skills to counter the many obstacles and objections that fall in their path.