While the terms “manager” and “leader” may frequently be used interchangeably, there are significant differences. Not only are there differences in who a leader and manager are, but what kind of person it takes to become each one. Managers can be assigned their duties, but you cannot mandate a leader. We’re going to dig into the differences between management and leadership, and what those differences mean.
Are Leaders And Managers Different?
Despite what many watercooler conversations might dictate, there is an ocean of differences between management and leadership. A good manager may be capable of leadership, but a leader does not need to hold any specific position in a hierarchy. Let’s get into a bit more detail:
What Is A Manager?
A manager, for better or worse, is a position or role in a conventional business organizational hierarchy. A manager is any person that is given a supervisory role over other employees who are considered their direct reports or subordinates. Managers are often tasked with organizing their teams and coaching them to meet particular metrics or performance goals. Managers also handle a significant portion of the company’s daily operations.
What Is A Leader?
A leader is a role that is sometimes taken on involuntarily or unknowingly and is someone who can help guide others toward a common objective or goal. Another way to look at it is that a leader can unite a team of people behind a shared vision. A leader does not need to have any specific role or official position of corporate “leadership”, as long as they are someone capable of inspiring those around them to work toward a goal.
The Key Differences Between Leaders & Managers
As you can see, there are massive differences between leaders and managers. The key is understanding where they overlap, and knowing that some people can be a mix of the two, and some people are strictly limited to being one or the other. To this end, it’s helpful to remember that management is confined to a business role, essentially a job, while leadership is so boundless and intangible that it can take countless forms.
There are leaders everywhere, and even though many companies have people that are part of “leadership”, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can effectively lead a team or inspire performance or innovation. All leaders can be a manager, but managers are not always effective or skilled leaders.
The character of both the leader and the manager will often be quite different, and both are often vital for a company to succeed. Leaders commonly have unshakable integrity and a very strong moral compass. They are highly respected by their team and often considered a role model for the overall tone and morale of the team. In some cases, they may even be influential for the organization’s culture and values.
Managers will usually have a much different mindset, due to being focused on business performance and organizational goals and objectives. A manager will be reliable, have a strong work ethic, and will be able to shoulder a significant amount of responsibility. Ethics and integrity are still important qualities for a manager but their overall character is still narrowly focused on leveraging available resources and processes to achieve a result.
The list of qualities that are important to have as either a leader or a manager is distinct, though as with the individual character, there will be some overlap. Leaders have a big-picture attitude and are frequently described as visionary, highly creative, and easily able to inspire others to reach a common goal. They are also known for being open-minded and willing to accept new ideas and points of view, which are often integrated into their drive to reach their goals.
Managers are similarly driven but differently. The qualities common for managers include being highly organized, efficient, and constantly focused on results. Managers are often relied upon to take existing resources and processes to complete a project or accomplish a task. This necessitates being excellent communicators, in particular, being able to articulate and convey their expectations for those in a subordinate role. This must all be balanced with an ability to adapt and make decisions quickly.
One of the areas with the widest difference in how managers and leaders operate is in how they derive their authority. In a sense, it’s similar to governing types. A leader derives their authority from the consent of those being led, whereas a manager derived their authority from an institutional position or organizational chart.
Leaders’ authority stems from their natural charisma, vision, and their ability to motivate others behind an idea. The influence they have is purely through their words and actions, and this is how they can bring their team together in pursuit of a single goal. Leaders often lead by example.
Managers are given authority over subordinates, by their superiors. They have been given a position that has duties and responsibilities that go along with it, and they are responsible for managing those duties and responsibilities within the framework of their position. The manager’s decision-making abilities we referenced earlier coincide with their authority in situations where they need to make decisions quickly, and have the power to enforce those decisions with organizational power.
Since managers are an organizational position and leaders aren’t, there are some big differences in their functions when it comes to a company. Leaders can help define the vision for the organization, which can help give it direction and inspire employees, laying the outline for the company culture.
Managers, on the other hand, have functions that largely revolve around project management. They need to manage resources, plan and execute with a pre-defined workforce, and manage time effectively to meet requirements and goals set by the organization.
Vision is limited to leaders, and is the background driving force behind all of the company's decisions and choices. An effective leader will be able to not only define the vision accurately but use it to inspire and motivate their team. They can use it to create purpose and drive innovation. A company without a vision is a company without a leader.