Leading vs Directing

Leading and directing are important management functions, but usually do not appear in the main job description. A great manager needs to be able to both lead their team and direct their operations – failing either of these roles is a recipe for disaster.

Leading vs Directing

To understand how managers can excel (or fail) at these roles, we first need to define what they are.


Leading is about taking the lead: initiating, inspiring, and motivating workers. It is about fostering passion to continue to work and exceed expectations, improve standards for product quality and manufacturing, set industry standards for quality and production, and generally being a great example for others to follow. When managers lead workers, they are helping them realize that managers objectives and goals coincide with their personal ambitions, in addition to the company’s overall mission, vision, and goals.


Directing is focusing the company into a specific direction. This means that when management develops a plan of action, organizes its dispersal, oversees the implementation, hires the right people, collaborates inter-departmentally, and adjusts to changes. Managers are directing the business to where it should go, having the organization’s mission, vision, and goals in mind. Backed by the full faith and trust in handling managerial tasks of a business, managers provide perspective in the ever-changing business environment filled with uncertainties and even some unexpected surprises.

Leadership Styles

Leaders (managers) come in many different shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. Ideally, a manager cares about their employees, collaborates with others to get things done right, considers the health and well-being of customers and employees, contemplates the costs and benefits of any action, and contributes to happy and safe workplace environment. Different people have different approaches to reaching these goals, which are broadly defined as “Leadership Styles”.


Also known as lazy or laid-back leadership because of the loose leadership quality it is known to have. Laissez-fire managers are not lazy, but usually are concerned about damaging their team through micro-management. These managers have strong faith in their team to largely self-direct, and only step in when progress is getting off course. Those using the laissez-faire leadership style are working with people who are very skilled and deliver a unique, customized product or service such as doctors or artisans. This type of leadership style would not be good for low skilled workers doing routine, standardized work such as those in fast-food restaurants, where standardization is a premium.


Also known as autocratic or tyrannical leadership because one person (the leader) makes all of the decisions – this is the polar opposite of a Laissez-faire manager. Although not as bad as it sounds, managers use this type of leadership style when there is too much conflict or indecisiveness in their team, and they must become the deciding vote for most important decisions. This leadership style is best used in situations where opposing sides cannot come together, such as when the US president uses an executive order to pass regulations, or the head of a family-owned business in Asia decides to buy-out all of its smaller competitors. There are many documented cases where the single leader truly knows what is best for the company, and an Authoritarian leader can make the business shine. Steve Jobs was one of the most (in)famous Authoritarian managers.


This is also known as Democratic leadership, because everyone gets heard and everyone is included in the decision-making process. This type of leader knows that they cannot move mountains by themselves, so they collaborate with those around them and establish long-lasting, meaningful relationships. They understand the importance of networking in achieving objectives and goals. People working under this leadership style tend to feel more satisfied with their work and feel more valued for their contributions. Situations where creativity and innovation are integral work best with this leadership style, such as in software and hardware development companies, product engineering, and so on.


A form of task-based leadership because the manager (the leader) lets employees know what they are supposed to do, when they are supposed to do it, and when to get it done. Pretty simple and easy to follow; however, this should only be used by the well-rounded manager in technical and education skills. For example, an accounting management partner delegates payroll to two employees, pensions to another five employees, leases to another three employees. For this to work, the Transactional Manager must know everything about these accounting concepts to evaluate the work and performance of the employees working on them. Such a leadership style is perfect for hierarchal organizations with clear upward mobility, clear developmental rankings, and clear job descriptions, mainly used by firms that provide services – the manager needs to have a full mastery of the subjects he or she is delegating to know how much of a load each employee can take.


Transformational leaders are also known as change leadership because this leadership style tries to effect changes (making a difference) as the purpose of management. This type of leader sees everything and everyone as something that can be improved and revolutionized. Transformational leaders represent the best in human and business standards in that they seek to improve employee morale by seeing value in them, make the workplace better by spreading positivity, exemplify high moral standards, emphasize ethical considerations, use logic and reasoning to win people over, and providing workers with options and opportunities.

Comparing Management Theories to Leading and Directing

Companies are always looking for ways to improve its quality of leadership. There is a wide body of research that looks at different approaches to how aspiring managers can improve their leadership quality, or different approaches for pairing managers to the right teams to bring out the best in both.

Trait Theories

According to this theory, managers make for good leaders and directors if they portray the qualities and characteristics associated with being good leaders and directors. For example, good leaders are described as passionate, innovative, inspiring, agreeable, calm, patient, and ethical. The aspects of what makes a good director are no different from what makes a good leader. Since a manager will have to do both, in essence, a manager has to become the image of a great business person of exceptional virtue.

Behavioral Theories

This theory proposes that specific behaviors (not traits) are indicators of what makes managers good leaders and directors. In addition, this theory suggests that managers can become good leaders and directors if they are exposed to situations and opportunities where they can develop and grow into it, such as when they climb the ranks by working hard, getting educated, and understanding the business they are in. Some behaviors that are linked with leadership and directorship include setting attainable goals, always thinking beyond their own self-interests, showing empathy for others, building relationships with those related to the success of the business, and so much more.

Contingency Theories

This theory states that managers can be good leaders and directors not because of the traits and behaviors they express, but by how they react in any given situation. This means that in an unexpected situation, the real test of leadership and directorship of the manager will be in how they act and respond to what comes their way. Depending on how effective and efficient their solution to any problem, it is only then that they can be considered as a good leader and director.

Leading and Directing Amidst Other Management Functions

The basic management functions are planning, organizing, leading, and controlling. All of these functions are interdependent; one cannot survive without the other, and all need to be present in each function for each to live out their purpose and intentions. Managers must lead and direct in everything that they do in addition to the other functions they must apply to everything. Here are some examples of what managers will do in each function in accordance with leading and directing functions:


The manager will take the lead in this phase by doing research on what company problems need to be fixed or addressed in some way, and directing those qualified to obtain needed information. Next, they will gather everyone involved to introduce a structure to the plan to make it more achievable to gain perspective on what direction the manager and company should go with this. After considering everyone’s input and suggestions, the manager has a better idea of what needs to be done to solve the problem and contain any issues that may arise.


The manager will lead their team to execute plans and business strategies by explaining the benefits and gains those participating will get from all of this. They work with everyone involved to put any plans into motion. Following that, the manager directs each person or department on how things should be done by letting them know what to set up, what they will need to obtain, how to deal with contingencies, and how to evaluate the objectives and goals set by the manager.


Plans, programs, and procedures set out by the manager will rarely go perfectly well because there are always bumps on the road along the way. Sometimes managers will need to enact some disciplinary measures that will require them to lead by taking charge of the situation and limiting the losses. If the problems are due to incompetent personnel, unsafe working conditions, unrealistic objectives/goals, resistant staff members, etc. the manager has to direct such individuals and groups in adjustments.

Managers can lead and direct in many different ways. They can get creative and innovative in the way they do them and how they do them by considering all the players: the avoidable costs, the unavoidable costs, the business climate, the competitive atmosphere, the economic forces, the customers, the qualifications of employees, what is on-hand that can be used or recycled, what can be improved without sacrificing quality or accuracy, and so much more.

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