Semantics of Management versus Leadership

Cutting through the corporate jargon:

Management versus Leadership

By Callie Buchwald

Home » Advice (disable) » Career Advice » Semantics of Management versus Leadership

Table of Contents

The Problem with Corporate Jargon

Understanding and using corporate jargon in our professional lives can be difficult. We are bombarded with similar expressions, repeated with slight variations, or substituted for synonyms.

Often the differences between corporate jargon are semantic. It’s normal to find them confusing.

Human Resources and our employers might encourage us to think outside the box, to utilise best practice, or to represent corporate values.

‘Management’ and ‘Leadership’ are two examples, often used interchangeably but with different implications.


‘Management’ and ‘leadership’ roles and responsibilities can overlap. Although, some scholars would argue a good leader cannot be a good manager and vice versa.

‘Management’ is derived from the Latin root word ‘manus’ which refers to hands. It can be interpreted as defining the handling of events, items, or people.

Ironically, the historical and now defunct meaning of the word describes trickery or deceit. Today it is almost exclusively used by the corporate world.

A manager could be someone with supervisory responsibilities, but someone without supervisory responsibilities might be required to manage a project or portfolio.

‘Management’ has a generic feel but can be used to describe interdisciplinary roles and responsibilities without losing meaning.


On the other hand, ‘leadership’ is a far more evocative term. It can be associated with qualities of self-sacrifice, bravery, and inspiration.

Leadership is often framed in the context of violent conflict, political tension, or sporting competitions. It makes sense that in times of stress and uncertainty we look to our leaders for guidance.

It can be described simply as the act of leading a group of people or an organisation. 

Technical definitions aside, what separates management and leadership often lies within the abstract. There is an implication of responsibility for the mentoring, well-being, and success of others.

Alternatively, ‘management’ suggests a tool to furthering corporate interests.

We might find it easier to imagine managing a team of volunteers than we would to describe qualities within ourselves enabling us to do so. Although ideally all great managers should represent strong leadership qualities.

Leadership is not exclusively defined within the scope of corporate life.


It can also be difficult to interpret and describe our own qualities objectively using corporate jargon. The distinction between a general human ideal and what is valued by Human Resources can be murky at best.

Most of us find it uncomfortable to step outside our lives and look back as a spectator trying to pluck out anecdotes.

‘Leadership’ does not describe some lofty, unattainable attribute. We all demonstrate leadership qualities in our jobs and in our day-to-day lives.

If you have ever asked a new employee if they need help, provided encouragement to a friend going through a hard time, or made a snap decision under pressure, you have demonstrated your capacity for leadership.

We become exhausted by the process of describing ourselves using corporate jargon in applications and experience burnout.


Below are two examples of how you could talk about management and leadership skills and cut through the distinction on your resume, without falling prey to adding unnecessary padding and content (and adding jargon yourself!).

Strong management capabilities involving excellent ability to triage priorities and deadlines, high-level problem solving and adherence to organisational strategies.

Exceptional leadership skills with highly developed interpersonal, mentoring and team-development capabilities.

So as you can see, corporate jargon in resumes can be tricky to navigate but there is usually a subtle distinction.

8-Steps for Leading Change - incorporating the methodology, avoiding the jargon-istic elements.

By way of an example in action for you, Dr Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change has been developed over decades of organisational observation, and outlines a methodology for leading change in the workplace. 

Organisational frameworks, while absolutely fantastic for applying a consistent framework, can be overrun with terms which can stray from the inherent meaning and are a great example of semantics moving away from the core of an issue.

Now that we’ve talked about interpretations of management versus leadership, a great exercise would be to read through the 8 Steps and consider these in real, actionable steps. Identifying change resistors? Those are the staff members not totally happy with this, or perhaps, any change. Influencing buy-in? What was the action (management), and what was the idea (leadership) behind it?

Management is ultimately the execution of operational leadership. 

We just need to make the distinction, get to the core of the fluff, and avoid waffling on beyond what is value-adding as content.

Before You Go

If you are experiencing fatigue due to the recruitment process,  remember your value is not dependent on how well you can describe yourself using corporate jargon.

Take the time to reflect on examples you feel proud of where ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ roles or qualities are required.

If you’re sick of the jargon, fill out our quote form here and let us cut through the fluff for you.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.