Difference between Personal & Professional Leadership

Organizational viability depends in part on effective leadership. Effective leaders engage in both professional leadership behaviors (e.g. setting a mission, creating a process for achieving goals, aligning processes and procedures) and personal leadership behaviors (e.g. building trust, caring for people, acting morally) (Mastrangelo, Eddy, & Lorenzet, 2004).

We define professional leadership as providing direction, process, and coordination to the members of an organization for the purpose of attaining the organization’s goals.

We define personal leadership as the personal behavior of leaders in performing the responsibilities of professional leadership, including demonstrating expertise, building trust, caring and sharing for people, and acting in a moral way.

We suggest a third alternative – that personal leadership mediates the relationship between professional leadership and willing cooperation.

In essence, personal leadership “carries” the professional message to the organization, because actions that occur in the process of professional leadership will impact personal interactions, which will in turn impact willing cooperation (Mastrangelo, Eddy, & Lorenzet, 2004).

Professional leadership encompasses the “formal” part of leadership – setting the vision and mission for the organization, creating a process for achieving organizational goals, and aligning processes and procedures, people and infrastructure, to achieve organizational goals.

Personal leadership can be thought of as the personal behavior of leaders in performing the responsibilities of professional leadership, including expertise, trust, caring, sharing and morals. It can be thought of as the “people” side of leadership. It is through these personal behaviors that leaders ensure the success of the professional leadership.

Organizational members must have confidence in the expertise of their leaders, and must trust that the leaders are doing what is best for everyone. Leaders must also demonstrate that they care about organizational members, must share authority and information with organizational members, and must act in a moral way. Engaging in these behaviors has been shown to contribute to effective leadership (Likert, 1961).

Likert (1961) found that effective managers focus on both of these factors rather than one exclusively. Blake & Mouton (1964) proposed that effective leaders have a high concern for both, and recent research suggests that effective leaders have at least a moderate level of both (Yukl, 1998). In essence, when an organization has created a direction that promotes both individual and organizational success; has established a process that values continuous improvement and makes it clear to employees what their role is in helping achieve organizational success; and has coordinated efforts to create strategic alignment between employee activities and organizational outcomes; this will likely lead to perceptions of expertise, trust, caring, sharing, and morality – the components of personal leadership (Mastrangelo, Eddy, & Lorenzet, 2004).

Personal leadership provides an excellent opportunity for people to evaluate the credibility of leaders, which helps determine whether employees “willingly” accept and contribute their efforts. Specifically, organizations with top management that is perceived favorably from a personal, or human side, are more likely to enjoy the willing cooperation of employees. Perhaps the most interesting fact is the mediating effect of personal leadership on the relationship between professional leadership and willing cooperation. When employees are confident in the professional leadership of the organization, it leads to favorable views of personal aspects of leadership (e.g. trust, caring), which in turn leads to employees engaging in willing cooperation. This makes sense when considering that people likely find it easier to get along with their organization’s leaders, when they perceive their leaders to be engaging in effective practices that will enhance business outcomes as well as employee outcomes.


Blake, R., & Mouton, J. (1964). The Managerial Grid. Houston, TX.: Gulf Publishing.

Likert, R. (1961). New Patterns of Management. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Mastrangelo, A., Eddy, E., & Lorenzet, S. (2004). The Importance of Personal and Professional Leadership. The Leadership & Organization Development Journal , 25 (5), 435-45.

Yukl, G. (1998). Leadership in Organizations (4th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice-Hall.