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Leadership versus Management in Early Years

July 5, 2021
7 minute read

Leadership and management are the same thing, right? Wrong! Although they may sound the same, leaders and managers often possess very different skills and characteristics.

So, are you a leader or a manager? This blog will help you find out…

How are leaders and managers different?

Leadership and management are often thought to have overlapping roles. Although this is true in some situations, these two terms can have different very meanings, and they shouldn’t be used interchangeably!

Both terms suggest a unique set of characteristics, functions, and skills that share similarities. Despite this, they show significant differences in some circumstances. For instance, some people lead without a managerial role, whilst some managers do not practice leadership!

The greatest leadership skill is to influence and inspire people. In contrast, a manager is usually someone who is appointed within an organisation to manage a certain aspect of the business. Most of the time, a manager is selected based on their technical skills, knowledge, and expertise.

Within the early years sector, it is advantageous to have both strong leaders and managers. Settings need great leaders to steer them in the right direction to achieve it’s missions and goals. For example, a leader may encourage their team to work towards their nursery’s overarching aim to provide a safe, happy, stimulating environment for children. However, a good manager is also needed to make sure that their staff team is aware of and working towards these goals, and that the setting remains compliant.

What are the 4 main differences between managers and leaders?

1. Leaders think ideas, managers think performance

While leaders are looking for opportunities for improvement on an  organisational level, managers focus on rationality and control.  Leaders think of new ideas and have a forward-thinking mindset. To put it another way, managers always look for answers to “how and when”, while leaders look for answers to “what and why”.

Consequently, a manager’s biggest responsibility is to fulfil their tasks based on the leader’s vision. Their main role is to control their staff, ensure they operate efficiently & productively and that they feel comfortable sharing their voice. It is also empirical that managers provide necessary information, processes, workflows and tools to enable their staff to achieve the visions of the leader.

Leaders can play a critical role in fostering change within organisations because they are continually looking for fresh ideas. Furthermore, by empowering employees to strive toward common goals, a leader drives constructive, gradual change. Effective communication is a leader's most powerful tool for doing so.

Leaders' change communication messages should prepare individuals to do things differently and explain why, while managers should continue to reinforce these messages. Many managers, however, are completely unaware of why the change is taking place.

The main difference is simply between a manager’s attention to how things get done, and a leader’s attention to what should be done to achieve greater results. 


2.  Leaders are visionaries, managers are implementers

When it comes to setting and accomplishing an early years setting’s mission and visions, managers and leaders have different functions. 

Leaders set the vision, they drive the change. The majority of leaders have a clear vision of where they want their setting to be in the future. However, they themselves are not the only ones responsible for making that vision become reality. 

This is where managers play a crucial role. While leaders may be responsible, through effective leadership communication, to transfer the missions and visions to the entire staff team, managers are responsible for keeping staff aligned with the core company values and goals. That being said, 71% of employees believe that their leaders do not contribute enough time communicating goals and plans. 

Regardless of whether a manager can influence people to work towards the same objectives, many employees agree that their setting doesn’t communicate the company’s goals effectively. Additionally, employees want (and expect to be) informed about how their setting is doing and where it is heading.  

By communicating openly about the company’s goals, opportunities, and challenges, leaders are the ones who can build trust in the workplace. They can encourage a productive work environment where staff feel empowered to share their own concerns, ideas and needs. The more transparent leaders are, the more desirable the work environment becomes.

3.  Leaders inspire, managers help achieve

While leaders have a great power to inspire people, managers are responsible for driving their continuous success and optimisticwork experience throughout the entirety of an employee's career.

Managers are held responsible for the success and productivity of their team because they account for over 70% of employee engagement in the workplace.

Managers  can do nothing to assist their employees to thrive if they are not inspired by what their leaders have to say. Leaders may empower their workforce, gain their followers' attention, and motivate them to undertake significant organisational initiatives by creating a personal leadership style through self-reflection, real communication, and regular feedback.

What’s more, studies show that employees feel less stressed and under pressure when they have the opportunity to engage with the leaders regularly. 

Early years practitioners, like employees in any sector, perform better in environments that encourage honest, open, and transparent communication. Many settings, however, continue to overlook the significance of two-way communication between leaders and employees. Instead, information is transmitted in one direction, and staff are unable to participate in discussions.

For a long time now there has been a big drive to bring more men to the early years sector.

4. Managers work in the present, leaders look into the future

One of the most significant distinctions between leaders and managers is that leaders are more future-oriented, whilst managers are more present-oriented.

As a result, the manager's most significant role is to achieve organisational goals by implementing  rotas , staffing, payroll, supporting parents, managing practice and monitoring processes and procedures. Leaders, on the other hand, are more likely to plan ahead and seize future opportunities.

However, the leadership's vision for the future is meaningless unless it can be articulated honestly and clearly to both managers and employees.

Where do a manager’s role and a leader’s role overlap?

  • Problem-solving and decision-making: both the manager and the leader are responsible for successful decision-making and problem-solving. While firm leaders are in charge of making decisions, managers are in charge of making decisions at the team or departmental level.
  • Communication: both leadership and management communication are crucial for success within their setting. As mentioned earlier, early years practitioners expect to be informed and educated about where their setting stands and where it is heading. While leadership communication should inspire people, continuous and clear management communication empowers people to do their best and builds a stronger team culture.
  • Change and crisis management: Leaders and managers should collaborate at times of change or crisis, just like they should during decision-making. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us the value of an agile workplace and the need to respond rapidly to change. While leaders may have a better understanding of the change that needs to be implemented, managers have better knowledge around how to enable their employees to accept the change and align with it. 

So, are you a leader who sets goals and inspires your staff to achieve them? Or are you a manager whose primary role is to help your staff along their journey in Early Years?

Or have you read through this blog and thought…. I am both a leader and a manager? In our roles as early years leaders, we often wear both hats, managing the day to day running of the setting and leading our teams towards our wider goals and vision. Perhaps you find ourself being more of a leader than a manager or vice versa?

The roles of leader and manager can be very separate, but in a sector like early years are often greatly blended and getting the balance right is a skill in itself!

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