The terms “management” and “leadership” have been used interchangeably, yet they have similarities and differences. Both terms suggest directing the activities of others. In one definition, managers focus on the organization and performance of tasks and aim at efficiency, while leaders inspire others by inspiring a shared vision and effectiveness. Managerial work tends to be more transactional, emphasizing processes, coordination, and motivation, while leadership has an emotional appeal, is based on relationships with followers, and seeks to transform.

One traditional way of understanding the differences between managers and leaders is that people manage things, but leaders lead other people. More concretely, managers administrate and maintain the systems and processes by which work gets done. Their work includes planning, organizing, staffing, leading, directing, and controlling the activities of individuals, teams, or whole organizations to accomplish a goal. Managers are results-oriented problem-solvers responsible for day-to-day functions focusing on an organization’s immediate, shorter-term needs.

In contrast, leaders take the long-term view and have responsibility for where a team or organization is heading and what it achieves. They challenge the status quo, make change happen, and work to develop the capabilities of people to contribute to achieving their shared goals. Additionally, leaders act as figureheads for their teams and organizations by representing their vision and values to outsiders. This definition of leadership may create a negative bias against managers as less noble or less critical: “Leader” suggests a heroic figure, rallying people to unite under a common cause. In contrast, “manager” calls to mind less charismatic individuals focused solely on getting things done.

Management versus leadership. http://oer2go.org/mods/en-boundless/www.boundless.com/management/textbooks/boundless-management-textbook/leadership-9/defining-leadership-68/management-versus-leadership-338-3993/index.html Content and user contributions on this site are licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 with attribution required.

To help distinguish between leadership and management, consider the following sets of terms associated with each category:

Leadership Management
  • Influencing
  • Change
  • Direction
  • Vision
  • Innovating
  • Developing
  • Long-term
  • Originating
  • Creating
  • Motivating
  • Inspiring
  • People
  • Big Ideas
  • Planning
  • Organizing
  • Controlling
  • Stability
  • Administering
  • Maintaining
  • Implementing
  • Instructing
  • Resources
  • Budgeting
  • Scheduling
  • Details

What is Leadership? Aaron Spencer and Lumen Learning.https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wm-principlesofmanagement/chapter/what-is-leadership/  License: CC BY: Attribution

Gender and the Role it Plays in Management and Leadership

Gender continues to play a role in workforce issues. Revolutions such as “Me Too” have offered women an avenue to speak up and out against injustices they face in the workplace. Aside from the looming and disturbing sexual assault parameters that “Me Too” is based on, this movement has granted women a more significant, unified voice to request equality in the workplace. The increased opportunities include but are not limited to, the deterrence of wage differentials and receiving consideration for high-level positions based on worth and not gender.

Unfortunately, Gender roles continue to play a significant role in workplace positions, specifically when utilizing the differences between management and leadership. As outlined in the Cultivating Your Leadership Capabilities (2019, Ch. 2), the differences are that managers manage “things” while leaders lead people. These differences in management and leadership should apply to leaders regardless of gender. Still, according to historical context, the distinction is much more prevalent between male and female leaders and managers.

What’s it all about?

Throughout examining the role gender plays in the workplace, I have discovered a distinction in the characteristics of male versus female leaders. A type of “brand” is put on each gender; men are more rigid and agentic, while women are more communal and amiable (Carli, 2007, p. 66 para. 1). Using these characteristics, we can compare the differences in management versus leadership. Suppose these characteristics of gender roles in the workplace and differences in management and leadership align. In that case, we can then determine a causal connection as to why many women still fail to obtain equality in workplace statuses.

To understand fully the differences in observed characteristics between the genders, we can turn to Linda Carli and Alice Eagly’s research. In their article, the authors cite the differences between the genders by stating, “…the clash is between two sets of associations: communal and agentic” (Carli, 2007, p. 66, para. 1). Communal can be defined as one being based in a community, or more colloquially, a people person; someone everyone can turn to for answers. On the other hand, agentic can be defined as someone assertive, competitive, and attentive to the task at hand. Carli explains, “Women are associated with communal qualities…being especially affectionate, helpful, friendly, kind, sympathetic, and interpersonally soft-spoken, gentle, and sensitive. Men are associated with agentic qualities, which convey assertion and control” (Carli, 2007, p. 66, para. 1).

According to Spencer (2019), we can begin to base these distinctions on the characteristics of management or leadership by stating, “Managers administrate and maintain the systems and processes by which work gets done…leaders take the long-term view and have responsibility for where a team or organization is heading and what it achieves” (paras. 2 and 3). Using the definitions in the paragraph above, we can draw parallels to the descriptions of management and leadership and see the causal relationship each description brings to illuminate the differences between men and women in the workplace.

Is History the Enemy of Progression?

The distinctions between management and leadership can be experienced in most modern workplaces. We all have experiences where we can point to a particular supervisor and, using Spencer’s definition, determine whether or not they were more of a manager or a leader. What is interesting about this is we usually do not make those distinctions firmly on the gender of the supervisor. But, by utilizing intensive research, we can draw those parallels between management and leadership based on gender.

Referring back to Linda Carli and Alice Eagly’s research, we can begin to understand the characteristics that lend themselves to a firm distinction between men and women in the workplace. Although we have discussed agentic characteristics as more rigid, unsympathetic, and “cold”, Carli and Eagly wrote, “the agentic traits are associated in most people’s minds with effective leadership – perhaps because a long history of male domination of leadership roles has made it difficult to separate the leader associations from the male associations” (Carli, 2007, p. 66, para. 1). According to Carli and Eagly, history of workplace norms can be blamed for the innate feeling most employees have towards male leaders; that they are effective because they are men. This gives women less “wiggle room” when vying for top-tier positions. Carli and Eagly wrote, “Women find themselves in a double bind. If they are highly communal, they may be criticized for not being agentic enough. But if they are highly agentic, they may be criticized for lack of communion” (Carli, 2007, p. 66, para. 1).

Carole Elliot and Valerie Stead wrote, “literature that does address gender and leadership specifically there has been a tendency to label leadership as either masculine or feminine in style” (Elliott & Stead, 2008, p. 163). Masculine and feminine leadership styles can be traced back to Carli’s interpretation (communal or agentic) but are also connected to Spencer’s text about the differences in characteristics between management and leadership.

The history of men in leadership roles can be based on the patriarchal norms of society. Eric Arthrell wrote, in a report published by Deliotte Insights, societally, men were expected to provide for families. This societal pressure to provide has allowed me to absorb both the communal and agentic tendencies for themselves without leaving room for women to utilize either effectively in the workplace.” Four themes characterize men in the workplace; “It’s on me, I’m terrified, I can’t turn to anyone, and show me it’s okay” (Arthrell, 2019, p. 10). These four themes help explain why men are thrust into the idea that they must achieve leadership or status in the workplace to provide for their families. The theme of “I’m terrified” is particularly interesting because it is grounded in the historical idea laid out previously. The report explains that “men are afraid of failure, which leads them to overcompensate with hypercompetitive behavior to mask their insecurity and earn professional success” (Arthrell, 2019, p. 10). This innate insecurity stems from the “protector” and “provider” societal norms shaped early on in Western civilization.

Knowing this historical and societal context, the differences between management and leadership in gender are prevalent in workplace equities. To reiterate the points made in Spencer’s (2019) article, “managers are results-oriented problem-solvers with responsibility for day-to-day functions which focus on the immediate, shorter-term needs of an organization” (para. 2). Tying this to Carli’s (2007) work, we can deduce that managers most align with the agentic characteristics (i.e., directing, administering, result-driven individuals). Leaders, as described by Spencer (2019), “take the long-term view and have responsibility for where a team or organization is heading and what it achieves. They challenge the status quo, make change happen, and work to develop the capabilities of people to contribute to achieving their shared goals” (para. 3). In alignment with Carli’s text, leaders can be described as more communal; focused on the health and strength of the team to ensure successful results.

According to Carrie Kerpen (2018), there was a simple reason why, despite being more aligned with the leader role, women were not considered to become leaders as frequently; she writes, “since men have been in charge of everything forever because they designed all the systems where people who were not men would contribute their labor either freely or for undervalued wages, it is worked out well for them to run everything” (Kerpen, 2018, para. 9). Utilizing Kerpen’s explanation, it is clearer to claim that Spencer’s (2019) highlights and Carli’s (2007) explanation of the characteristics of the modern workplace authority figure grant us insight into how gender can and does play a role in whether women or men are managers or leaders.

Time for much-needed change

The research above shows that gender disparity in management and leadership will continue due to historical context and stagnant organizational models. Kerpen’s statement that men controlled and created every institutional system to reap the benefits is disturbing yet historically accurate. Management and leadership, as defined through agentic and communal properties, can provide a rift between gender equality in the workplace.

Throughout the research, I have clarified that agentic qualities are more aligned with management, while communal qualities are aligned with leadership. Those distinctions help explain that men are more agentic and, therefore, managerial, which prompts the response that women are more communal and, therefore, more prone to leadership. It can even be argued that women would make even better leaders due to this distinction. But, as we have learned through historical context, the patriarchal societal norms constrict the growth in both gender equality and the foray into management and leadership. This explanation speaks to Eagly and Carli’s idea of a double bind women face in the workplace (2007). More communal women will not be considered strong leaders because of their “soft” persona or demeanor. More agentic women are viewed as too harsh and not communal enough. It is a struggle that continues in the modern workplace.

To fully understand why these distinctions have been made for so long, I turned to historical context to explain. Men have been considered the standard bearers in organizational management and leadership for so long now that society has come to expect men in leadership roles. Women never had an opportunity to grow and climb in an organization because of societal structures. Over time, the structures and parameters have slowly begun to break down, but we are still far from eliminating them. Women will continue to struggle in organizational structures Until such a time.


Although I argue that this distinction between management and leadership, and men and women, continues to be a pervasive issue in the modern workplace, I am not ignorant that there are continued attempts to remedy gender inequalities across all workplaces. It is essential to continue to aim toward gender equality in the workplace, especially when society has had these strict gender parameters for so long. A much-needed change should happen, and as professionals, we need to continue supporting efforts to instill those changes.

Everything takes time; if we continue to make conscious efforts toward gender equality in the workplace, our organizations will continue to grow, succeed, and influence change in other organizations. History should not be the enemy of progression, but it can sometimes cloud the judgment of organizational leaders, allowing them to continue to operate as they always have. Breaking the mold is difficult, but, as mentioned, women are stepping up and fighting against these inequalities daily through movements such as “Me Too.” Change is good; changes to the norms of gender inequalities are even better.


Arthrell, Eric (April 2019). Status, Fear, and Solitude: Men and gender equality at the top. Retrieved August 12, 2019 from https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/topics/value-of-diversity-and-inclusion/male-perspective-on-gender-equality-and-leadership.html

Carli, Linda and Alice Eagly (2007), Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved August 12, 2019 from https://learn.granite.edu/pluginfile.php/1828447/mod_resource/content/1/Women%20and%20the%20Labyrinth%20of%20leadership.pdf

Elliott, Carole and Valerie Stead (2008), Learning from Leading Women’s Experience: Towards a Sociological Understanding. SAGE Publications. Retrieved August 31, 2019 from https://learn.granite.edu/pluginfile.php/1828446/mod_resource/content/4/Learning%20from%20leading%20womens%20experience.pdf

Kerpen, Carrie (December 2018). How Will We Reach Gender Parity in Leadership? One Workplace at a Time. Retrieved August 12, 2019 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/carriekerpen/2018/12/11/we-need-more-women-in-charge/#64efc4123f52

Spencer, Aaron (2019). What is Leadership? Retrieved on August 31, 2019 from      https://via.hypothes.is/https://granite.pressbooks.pub/ld820/chapter/2/#annotations:_7auYrFQEem7ycNn0CcHjg

Studies, G., & College, G. (2019). Cultivating Your Leadership Capabilities. Retrieved July 5, 2019 from     https://via.hypothes.is/https://granite.pressbooks.pub/ld820/chapter/9/#annotations:kHP0yrtyEemlkvNgLYcxfg

Gender and the role it plays in management and leadership. By McKillop, D (2019)  Content and user contributions on this site are licensed under : CC BY: Attribution with attribution required.



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