Leadership Without Management

Many famous statements differentiate between a manager and a leader. How to lead without being in a managerial role?

Gunnar Habitz
4 min readMay 23, 2018


Photo by Adobe Stock

While the reality is never just black and white, most quotes are designed to show these as two different elements. Quoting Warren Bennis:

“The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing. The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.”

John Kotter, Leadership Professor at Harvard University, described leadership as “aligning people to the vision, that means buy-in and communication, motivation and inspiration” while “Management is a set of processes that keep an organisation functioning”. The winning balance between “Managers handle processes” and “Leaders inspire people” is related to concrete situational requirements. The same company might need an innovative leader at their helm at one time and an operating manager in another circumstance.

Over the last couple of years, many companies moved to lean structures with less hierarchies and reduced number of managers. Senior individual contributors are requested to take leadership without carrying a management title or even a team lead role. How to move there without formal structure and education?

Here are three typical types of leaders without being official people managers (beyond project managers, change managers, external consultants etc.):

  • Well-respected seniors are known in their field and act wisely in a genuine interest to help others. Often this mindset comes with longer tenure time either with the same employer or as a functional expert joining from other companies where this individual achieved a trusted advisor role.
  • Large multinationals with their matrix organisations often employ regional managers for concrete categories or go to market areas beyond the regular reporting line. These enhanced responsibilities are more challenging to motivate the team without being their direct boss. These “dotted line” roles need balanced visionary and participative styles to succeed in the sandwich between country teams and senior level.
  • Startup companies don’t use hierarchical models, all employees are hired to live an…



Gunnar Habitz

Content Creator for Social Selling & LinkedIn, author of "Connect & Act", Leadership Mentor and Board Director. Writing here and on www.gunnarhabitz.com.au