Leadership versus management: How to be great at both to help grow your SMB

14 Sep 2022

When you’re at the helm of an SMB, you’re used to wearing many hats.

You may have tried your hand at bookkeeping, marketing, sales and even HR to grow your company.

While some tasks are better left to the experts (when you’re in a position to pay someone to do them, of course), others — like leadership and management — can be trickier to delegate.  

Leadership and management are both essential functions in an SMB. If you can learn how to fulfil both roles well, you can empower your team and grow your company.

Leadership versus management

So what do we mean when we talk about leadership versus management?

How are the two roles different? Where do they align? And what skills do you need to succeed as both a leader and a manager?

Let’s start by looking at the key distinctions between leadership and management.

Vision versus execution

Leaders focus on creating and communicating a vision for their team or the entire company. They discover and take advantage of business opportunities.

Managers focus on executing a vision through organisation and operations. They take responsibility for budgeting, scheduling and guiding a team to achieve objectives.

A title versus a state of mind

Being a manager means having a job title.  

But to be a leader, you need to have the right state of mind. You don’t just divvy up the workload and ensure it gets done.

You’re also committed to acting in a way that inspires others, knowing where the company is going, and encouraging your team to follow you on that journey.

This is why anyone within an organisation can be a leader — even if they aren’t managers.

Inspiration versus motivation

Leaders inspire the people around them. They communicate the overarching aims of the company and get people excited about working towards them.

Managers motivate their employees daily, giving them the tools and resources they need to do their jobs. And they remind them of their part in the bigger picture to maintain motivation.

Shaping the culture versus enforcing and endorsing the culture

Leaders are responsible for crafting the company culture. They pin down the values of an organisation. These values then help determine company goals and how team members should achieve those goals.

Managers help to put that cultural vision into practice. They enforce and endorse the culture in daily interactions and as part of their management style.

The future vs the present

A leader is always thinking a few steps ahead. They think strategically, finding ways to minimise risks and capitalise on opportunities to move the company forward.

Managers are more concerned with day-to-day operations. Of course, they have the expertise to analyse and improve systems — but they’re not focused on the bigger, long-term picture in quite the same way as leaders.

How to be a good leader and a good manager

When we look at leadership vs management, there are a few key differences. But there are also lots of similarities. That’s why it’s possible to fulfil both roles well.

Here are the skills and attributes you need to succeed as a leader and a manager.


Good communication is essential to both roles.

Great leaders make their communication engaging and inspiring. They are excellent storytellers, able to get people behind their ideas and goals.

They’re also open to the ideas of others, encouraging an open and transparent culture where colleagues feel supported and where innovation can thrive.

Similarly, a good manager will ensure everyone feels comfortable raising issues and asking questions.

But a manager’s communication primarily focuses on the resources, limitations and expectations involved in achieving company goals.

A manager ensures everyone knows the steps they need to take thanks to clear, consistent communication.

Interpersonal skills

Both leaders and managers have a good understanding of what makes their team members tick. They know what motivates them and how to encourage them to bring their A-game.  

Decision making

Both leaders and managers require analytic and strategy skills to make good decisions. But their remit for decision-making is slightly different.

Good leaders make decisions for the company as a whole. To inform their decision-making process, they ask lots of questions — discovering the what and why of company objectives.

Managers make lots of decisions too. But their choices are focused on specific teams, departments, and processes. They decide how the team can best execute a leader’s vision.  

Change management

No business stands still. So both leaders and managers have to navigate change.

Good leaders communicate the need for change, why change needs to happen, and what that means for the company.

A good manager finds ways to support employees and team members through workplace changes, helping them adapt and stay resilient in the face of upheaval.


Both leaders and managers set the example they wish their employees to follow. They communicate transparently, treat everyone fairly and work to earn the trust of their teams.

Only by demonstrating their integrity can they encourage people to work hard and believe in company values.

A commitment to professional development

Your journey toward becoming a great leader or manager doesn’t end as soon as you land an impressive job title. 

There’s always something new to learn when you’re a leader or a manager. Great leaders and managers always strive to evolve their skills and become better at what they do.  

The end result?

Mastering these skills to become a successful leader and manager helps motivate your employees and grow your company.

When you demonstrate a vision and inspire people to follow your lead while also knowing how to support and motivate them in their day-to-day work, you get the very best from your team.

Here at Workhorse, we’re passionate about helping SMBs grow and improve their business. That’s why we provide lots of SMB insights on our blog. Why not check it out today?

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