Do We Have to Choose Between Management and Leadership?

Do organizations need fewer managers and more leaders? Do the qualities of one outweigh those of the other? In this article, Esther Derby defines leadership and management, and shows how one test manager incorporates both.

In a recent discussion on the state of a software company, a programmer declared, "We don't need managers around here, we need leaders!"

I'm always puzzled by statements like this.

"How do you see the difference between management and leadership?" I asked.

"Managers do things right, and leaders do the right thing," the programmer replied, repeating a Warren Bennis quote.

"But what do they do differently?" I pressed.

"Managers manage, and leaders lead," the programmer replied with conviction.

Here's how leadership professor John Kotter describes the difference between management and leadership (which I paraphrase here):

Management is:

  • establishing timetables and steps for achieving needed results and allocating resources to make it happen
  • creating structure, staffing and delegating responsibility, and having the authority to accomplish goals
  • monitoring results, identifying deviations, and planning and organizing to solve problems
  • producing key results expected by various stakeholders

Leadership is:

  • establishing direction, and developing a vision for the future
  • aligning people, modeling the vision, influencing, and creating teams and coalitions
  • inspiring people to overcome barriers to change by satisfying basic human needs
  • producing useful change

Reading these lists, it's clear to me that organizations need both.

About the author

Esther Derby's picture Esther Derby

A regular and Better Software magazine contributor, Esther Derby is one of the rare breed of consultants who blends the technical issues and managerial issues with the people-side issues. She is well known for helping teams grow to new levels of productivity. Project retrospectives and project assessments are two of Esther's key practices that serve as effective tools to start a team's transformation. Recognized as one of the world's leaders in retrospective facilitation, she often receives requests asking her to work with struggling teams. Esther is one of the founders of the AYE Conference. She co-author of Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great. She has presented at STAREAST, STARWEST and the Better Software Conference & EXPO. You can read more of Esther's musings on the wonderful world of software at and on her weblog at Her email is

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