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Management vs. leadership skills and how to develop them

The importance of strong organizational leadership cannot be overstated. Not only is it crucial for well-aligned workplaces, but it's the single most important factor that makes employees want to stick around.¹

However, being an effective manager or leader isn't always intuitive. It requires a shift in the way you work, make decisions, and relate to others. This can be confronting if you're stepping into a leadership role for the first time.

The good news is that, just like technical skills, the ability to lead can be taught and developed.

In this article, we delve into the key management and leadership skills and explain their differences. We also share practical strategies and resources to build these competencies.

So, whether you're an executive, a new manager, or an aspiring leader, you'll be able to guide organizations and people to success in no time.

What are management and leadership skills?

If you've ever wondered about the difference between a manager and a leader, you're not alone. While there's a lot of crossover between these roles, there's also plenty of misconceptions.

It's important to first understand that people are led, while processes are managed.

Think about how dehumanizing 'managing' another person sounds. It implies that we are simple beings that can be coerced into doing whatever our superiors deem fit.

The reality is, only things that can be measured, such as processes and data, can be managed.

However, the role of the manager is still important, as it ensures that efficient workflows are in place and that projects get completed on time. It should also be noted that it is entirely possible to be both a manager and a leader, but not all managers are good leaders (yet!).

To put it simply:

  • Leaders cultivate the things we need to want to do things: confidence, drive, motivation, a clear vision, a sense of purpose, and a willingness to fail.
  • Managers cultivate the things we need to actually do those things: clear timelines, resource provision, removing roadblocks, and enabling employees every step of the way.

Why are management and leadership skills important?

As leaders tend to deal more with big-picture strategy and the overall development of people, they can be conceptualized as the ones charting the course of the ship. Meanwhile, managers are at the helm, steering the ship in the desired direction day-to-day.

Clearly, both are crucial for getting the vessel to the desired destination.

Both leadership and management skills are essential in our personal lives, too. Think about being a parent, for example. To get your kids ready for school in the morning, you need to play the role of a manager, delegating roles and checking off mental lists so everyone makes it into the car with their belongings in tow.

However, it’s just as important to coach children to develop the self-esteem and self-worth they need to face each day with confidence.

Leadership vs management: An example

A clear illustration of the difference between a manager and a leader can be found in the hit Apple TV series, Ted Lasso. When Ted first joined Richmond FC as a coach, he didn't know a thing about British football.

While he was ill-equipped to advise on the nuances of game strategy, he was able to lead the team to success through his positive outlook, vision, and inspiring speeches. He was also exceptional at helping his players work through personal and professional issues so they could show up at their best on the field.

Meanwhile, the team captains played more of that traditional 'manager' role,’ albeit, with varying degrees of humility and effectiveness!

What are some management and leadership skills examples?

Whether you're in charge of a small team or an entire organization, there are some essential skills required of all business leaders. These include interpersonal skills (such as active listening and nonverbal communication), decision-making, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. However, each also comes with its own distinct skill set, as we'll explore below.

What are some examples of people management skills?


When you step up to a management role, you'll likely find that you're no longer simply responsible for your own output. It's up to managers to ensure everyone in their team has clearly defined roles and deliverables day-to-day. This requires strong delegation skills, the process of transferring tasks or responsibilities to others.

Research shows that delegation ensures deadlines are met, but also builds better trust and engagement in teams.¹ To master this skill, managers must have strong communication skills and a solid understanding of the unique strengths of each team member.

🎯 Suggested coaching program: Team Building

Planning and organization

As managers often become unofficial project managers, strong organizational skills are a must. Whether you're leading a specific team or working across multiple departments, you'll likely be responsible for getting projects delivered on time and within budget.

This requires an ability to break large goals down into smaller, more manageable chunks, with clear timelines and deliverables attached. It also means ensuring the team is well-aligned as you work towards common goals.

🎯 Suggested coaching program: Goal Catcher

Time management

While some might associate time management with being a 'clock watcher', this core skill has little to do with micromanaging. Instead, it's about reducing stress amongst the team by ensuring everyone has the resources and time they need to get everything done.

Time management is also linked to prioritization, as managers must ensure the team is focused on high-leverage tasks that actually move the needle (rather than 'busy work').

This skill also requires managers to put their leadership caps on, by having difficult conversations when team members are procrastinating, not by 'cracking the whip', but by asking questions to figure out why.

🎯 Suggested coaching program: Start Fast

Attention to detail

Managers are often responsible for reviewing their team's projects before they go out to important stakeholders or the wider public. For this reason, they need to have an exceptional eye for detail.

While being detail-oriented doesn't come naturally to everyone, this is a skill that can be developed by becoming more focused, patient, and methodical.

🎯 Suggested coaching program: Attention To Detail

What are some examples of leadership skills?

Inspiring and motivating others

One of the most important roles of a leader is to build highly engaged, thriving teams. This means taking the core values and culture of the company and reinforcing them in a way that motivates others.

Research shows that inspirational leadership has a strong impact on employee happiness and engagement at work.² But, there's a caveat, trust is an important mediating factor.

It's not enough for leaders to just be charismatic. They must also build strong relationships with the people they lead and have a nuanced understanding of what motivates each individual.

🎯 Suggested coaching program: Multiply Your Impact

Visionary and strategic thinking

While managers are often deep in the minutiae of daily operations, leaders must look at the big-picture vision. This can be a challenging balance if you're a manager who also wants to be a better leader! Thankfully, it's possible to train yourself to look beyond the horizon while also staying focused on the present. By staying updated with stakeholder perspectives, competitors, and emerging trends, leaders can begin to see the forest for the trees.

🎯 Suggested coaching program: Big Picture Thinker

Emotional intelligence and empathy

Arguably the biggest factor that separates mediocre leaders from great ones is emotional intelligence (EQ). This is the ability to manage and regulate your own emotions, as well as understand those of the people around you. EQ is inextricably linked with empathy, which is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of others.

Research shows that emotionally intelligent leaders make their employees feel seen and heard, which significantly boosts job satisfaction, retention, and engagement.³

🎯 Suggested coaching program: Increase EQ

Building psychological safety

Closely related to emotional intelligence, leaders are also responsible for creating a dynamic where employees feel comfortable speaking up about their issues and concerns. This comes down to psychological safety,  the absence of interpersonal fear.

Studies show that psychologically safe organizations are 76% more engaged, 50% more productive, and 74% less stressed.⁴ To cultivate this, leaders must put their biases to the side, and listen to their employees with patience and a lack of judgment.

🎯 Suggested coaching program: Reflection & Patience

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How to develop management and leadership skills

Now, you know the soft skills that define successful managers and leaders. But, how do you start developing these traits, especially if your organization hasn't given you a clear roadmap?

Read on for some practical tips, strategies, and resources to set you on the right path.

Assess your current skills

The best starting point for developing strong leadership skills is to take inventory of where you're already at. Even if you've never held a managerial role, you may be surprised by the existing traits that make you a natural leader. However, we all have blind spots that make it difficult to see where we need to improve.

This is why it's important to use honest self-assessment combined with data, to gain a better understanding of your leadership strengths and weaknesses. This is where Marlee comes in.

Answer our questions to find out what motivates you and uncover your motivational fit for 48 core traits, with 90% accuracy. It also benchmarks these traits against other successful leaders in your industry, to reveal how your skills stack up.

Not only can Marlee help identify areas of improvement, but it also reveals whether you're better suited to be manager or leader (or both!).

Marlee collaboration and performance AI

You can also take a quiz to understand your leadership abilities. For example, The Leadership Circle 360 profile gives you a birds-eye view of your competencies in various levels of leadership.

Strategies for skill development

Now that you have a clear idea of the leadership qualities you want to improve, there are many different avenues you can take to improve them. This includes:

Practical experience

Sometimes, nothing beats rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty. Consider whether there are leaders you admire in your organization, who you can shadow in meetings.

Thisl allows you to see their leadership style in action and get a feel for how they approach decision-making. Or, if you're not ready to change your job, you could dip your toe into the water by volunteering to lead a smaller project. This might be organizing a workplace sports league or planning the Christmas party.

Formal training and education

You may find that to be an effective leader or manager, you first need to bridge some technical gaps. For example, more business acumen or project management skills may be required before you can confidently rise through the ranks. In this case, it may be helpful to look into industry-specific training or education courses.

These may be offered through universities, other vocational providers (such as TAFE in Australia, or community colleges in the US), or private training companies. Often, you'll find that if it benefits your company, they'll be more than happy to pay for it, especially as it's tax-deductible!

Seek mentors and role models

It can be difficult to become a good leader or manager if you've never experienced one yourself. As the expression goes, if you can't see it, you can't be it.

If you don't have any models of effective leadership inside your organization, seeking an external role model or mentor can help. This might involve reaching out to someone who inspires you in your field on LinkedIn or signing up for ongoing mentoring.

These people will have forged the path before you and will be able to share the insights they've gained. The leadership benefits of mentoring speak for themselves. Research shows it improves confidence, communication, and problem-solving skills.⁵

On the flip side, signing up to mentor junior employees inside your organization can also be a great way to level up your leadership skills. This can also be a personally rewarding experience.

Get coached

Another way to develop effective leadership skills is through a structured coaching program. Research shows that working with a coach has a transformational impact on the confidence and executive presence of leaders.⁶

Wondering what the difference between a coach and a mentor is? While mentors share their personal experiences to give you a roadmap for success, coaching is more personalized and goal-driven.

A great coach won't tell you what to do but instead, asks intentional questions to improve self-awareness and unearth powerful insights.

In the past, executive coaching was a privilege reserved for the top leaders in an organization. However, technological advancements, such as AI, have democratized access to coaching, making it accessible at all levels.

At Marlee, we have 2 options for leadership and management coaching. If you prefer to work with a human, we have a directory of highly trained and carefully vetted coaches you can book a session with.

Or, for a scalable, in-demand option, our AI coach Marlee delivers personalized coaching programs based on your unique working style. After you've taken the work style assessment and set your development goals, Coach Marlee will recommend the best coaching program to level up your skills. The best part is, these sessions only take a few minutes, and can be completed anytime or anywhere that is convenient for you.

coaching programs are displayed on your F4S dashboard

Marlee coaching programs

Explore resources for further learning

Beyond investing in professional development, there are many great free resources to help you develop as a leader and manager.

Spanning books, podcasts, TED talks and blogs, these include:

Stay updated

In light of emerging technology and the third industrial revolution, the world of work is in a constant state of flux. This means that what it takes to be a great manager or leader tomorrow might not be the same as it is today. To continue to reach organizational goals, it's important that current and emerging leaders stay up-to-date with the changing needs of the workforce.

On the Marlee blog, we regularly share in-depth guides to leadership development trends to ensure you stay ahead of the game. Other useful resources include the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and other leadership and management blogs.


  1. The Color Works, 2019 Delegation demonstrates trust improves engagement and enhances productivity, The Color Works Blog,  https://www.thecolourworks.com/delegation-demonstrates-trust-improves-engagement-and-enhances-productivity/
  2. Sallas-Vallina A, Simone C, Fernandez-Guerrero R, 2020, The human side of leadership effects on follower characteristics and happiness at work, Journal of Business Research, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0148296318305253
  3. Gagnon D, 2023, The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Leadership, Southern New Hampshire University, https://www.snhu.edu/about-us/newsroom/career/the-importance-of-emotional-intelligence-in-leadership
  4. Accenture, 2021 Why psychological safety at work matters to business, Accenture, https://www.accenture.com/us-en/blogs/business-functions-blog/work-psychological-safety
  5. Carruthers R, 7 Reasons mentorship is Integral to Growing Your Career, Radical Candor, https://www.radicalcandor.com/blog/why-mentorship-is-important
  6. Elliott K, 2023, Five Benefits of Executive Coaching that Might Surprise You, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2023/03/24/five-benefits-of-executive-coaching-that-might-surprise-you/

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