Sales Leadership vs. Sales Management – Is There a Difference?

September 19, 2019  |  Posted by in Leadership Development

LinkedIn is not short of inspirational and motivational messaging these days. While on the professional networking site recently, I came across a post with this quote, “The greatest gift of leadership is a boss who wants you to be successful.” Soon after reading it, I found myself deep in a reverie contemplating what exactly leadership is.

What is Leadership vs. Management?

It seems we often use the terms “management” and “leadership” interchangeably when it comes to describing our work positions. But when I stopped to think about the actual functions of each role, I started to question whether they should be used interchangeably. According to, management is “the person or persons controlling and directing the affairs of a business, institution, etc.,” whereas leadership is “the position or function of a leader, a person who guides or directs a group.” From these definitions, we can see that leadership and management do in fact have something in common—the act of “directing.” The schism between the two lies in for what/whom the directing is intended. Managers direct the affairs of the business, while leaders direct a group of people.

This is where our job titles and the labels we give to our positions can become tricky and misleading. Maybe some of us have the title of “Sales Manager,” but what we’re really tasked with is leading a team of sales professionals so that those individuals see success in their sales roles. If this is the case, maybe a better title for us would be “Sales Leader,” since our primary duty lies in directing and developing people. Likewise, maybe some of us have a leadership title, but we’re actually responsible for directing the sales processes that others follow and monitoring the overall health and viability of our sales organization. In this case, would it then be more appropriate to have a title of “Sales Manager?”

In a recent Selling Power blog by Carew’s CEO Jeff Seeley, he states that “sales professionals are typically promoted to leadership roles because of what they know, how long they’ve worked, or how well they’ve sold rather than their EQ (emotional intelligence) or skill in managing others.” Having deep knowledge of your industry and your company’s sales processes are great assets to have when it comes to being promoted to a sales operations/management role within the company. However, if you’re being promoted to a role in which you are charged with leading a group of sales individuals, then your “people” skills and EQ may be more important than your previous selling experience or historical knowledge of company sales processes.

The Final Verdict: Leadership or Management?

To answer my own question of whether “management” and “leadership” should be used interchangeably, I’ve come to the conclusion that while it may help to alleviate confusion when describing what we do, perhaps distinguishing the terms is of little importance, after all. Regardless of whether you’re called a “Sales Manager” or a “Sales Leader,” the point to be made is that if you are placed in a role in which you are responsible for uplifting the performance of a team of sales reps, then it’s important to keep your “people” skills front and center. And if you’re responsible for managing the sales processes and overall viability of your sales organization, then it’s important to keep your sales and operations skills front and center. As long as we are mindful and aware of what the actual function of our job entails, and we are utilizing and continually developing the particular skills that will help us do that job, then the label we’re given to describe our job, whether it’s “manager” or “leader” is not of any material significance.

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