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May 25, 2020


Leader vs manager: what’s the difference?

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You’ve likely had a manager or two in your career that you weren’t very fond of. And on the flip side, you’ve probably worked with or for someone who you looked up to and admired a lot. Managers and leaders. Not every manager is good at leadership, and not every great leader is good at management. There are arguments about if these two terms are actually the same or different. What most research has come to find is that a manager is more about your position, and leadership is more about who you are. You can be a manager and a leader, or you can be one or the other. If you’re a current or aspiring manager, it’s really important to focus on good leadership. There are some differences between these two titles, but it can be a huge asset to understand these differences and how you can work to develop the characteristics of both.

Managers are generally responsible for the day-to-day operations of an operation. They have people who report to them, they oversee their work, and help make all of the projects run smoothly. They manage systems confidently and help their workers feel understood and meaningful to the organization.

Leadership is all about building a vision for people to follow. They inspire and direct with authority and intelligence. They help people feel confident and excited to follow their lead. 

Leadership and management may seem to be different, but in reality they share many qualities. If a manager is a good leader, their workers will be willing to follow their lead, they will trust them, and they will have a more positive work experience. 

Discover the different characteristics of leaders and managers, and how you can work to harness both and successfully direct teams in your organization.

Leadership and management characteristics.

Leaders and managers share some important characteristics, but they also have some very different elements that make them unique. There are different leadership theories and management styles that can directly impact how a manager or leader behaves. 

Leadership characteristics.

  • Innovates

  • Motivates

  • Inspires

  • Empowers

  • Focuses on people

  • Creates a vision for the future

  • Sets the tone for a great group culture

  • Long-range vision

  • Embraces change

Management characteristics.

  • Administers

  • Sets specific goals

  • Provides structure for the team

  • Plans

  • Organizes

  • Delegates

  • Implements strategies

  • Solves problems

  • Detail-oriented

Shared characteristics.

  • Open communication

  • Honesty

  • Integrity

  • Decisiveness

  • Respect

  • Empathy

  • Creativity

  • Confidence

  • Optimism

  • Commitment

A man and woman discuss business plans in a basketball court.

What do leaders and managers do?

In many instances, not all leaders do management work in their job. And some managers aren’t effective at leadership. It’s important to understand the specific distinctions in the roles, actions, and responsibilities of leaders and managers. If you’re studying management, it’s extremely valuable to be able to implement characteristics and abilities of leaders into your work. If you’re in a leadership position in an organization, it’s vital to understand what managers are in charge of and how you can help support their work. These two job titles can and should work together cohesively to give employees the best work environment.  

Mission vs. vision. Management spends a good deal of their time focusing on the specific mission of their organization and their team. They need to know the detailed goals for project success, and help the team come up with a way to reach their goals. A manager’s focus on mission helps the team members understand what is expected of them. Vision is a leadership element that involves looking at a larger picture. Leaders help the team understand the greater part they can play in helping the organization. They motivate the people they work with to help them catch that vision. They help teams see their contributions in a bigger light, as part of an overall vision for success. They focus on some of the bigger picture outcomes and help everyone get on board. Managers can have this leadership quality by helping the team catch the vision of the organization and project before diving into the smaller details of their specific mission. It's their responsibility to focus on the details, but it can also be key to inspire them to want to focus on those details.

Innovation vs. organization. Managers need to be organized in order to help their workers be successful. Organization in projects, meetings, strategy, and teams are all key for managers to help their workers feel secure. Managers need to spend time focusing on specific ways to be organized in daily tasks as well as larger projects. Whatever great idea is coming, managers find a way to break it into smaller tasks and projects that are manageable for the team. Leadership spends time focusing on innovation and coming up with new, exciting plans. Creativity is key for effective innovation in leaders. They are always looking for new things that they could try to help the company. Managers can harness both of these actions by looking for innovative ideas that are exciting for their team, and helping organize ways to make those innovations come to light. 

Self awareness, trust, and control. Management and leadership alike need to have self-awareness, trust, and control in their employees. Employees and workers need to see that their managers and leaders trust them. This is crucial to them feeling confident in their work. Managers and leaders also need to be self-aware so they understand how they impact the people around them. Being able to see themselves objectively helps them to be better connected to their employees. This is an important part of emotional intelligence which management and leadership can greatly benefit from. Control is another important element for effective leaders and managers alike. Management need to find control so their employees view them with respect and authority. Leaders also need control to make sure that the people who follow them believe that they have something important to show them.

Two-way learning. Two way learning is the belief that insight and advice can come from anywhere. Managers and leaders alike need this to be able to accept ideas and insights from lower employees. Being willing and excited about listening to employees is crucial to being successful both as a manager and as a leader. It’s vital to understand that you can learn from anyone in the organization, no matter their title.

The importance of defining your role as a leader and manager.

While leadership and management are a little different, you can play to the strengths of both of these and be a manager who leads employees successfully. Small business owners and entrepreneurs often have to walk the line of being both a leader and a manager, and management should work hard to try and also have great leadership for the people who work under them. Combining the qualities of both of these roles helps managers and leaders be more impactful. If you’re hoping to become a manager, it’s important to start with attending school so you have all of the skills you need, and then can work to get the characteristics of leadership and management.

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