What Are the Key Differences Between Manager and Leader?

What is the difference between a manager and leader? This is a regularly asked question among many organisations, and it has been answered in as many different ways. We look at what experts agree are the key differences.

We all like to think we are natural leadership qualities, however leadership isn’t something you just ‘have’ – you need to work on improving your skills over time. So, what is the key difference between a manager and a leader?

The main difference between being a leader and a manager, is that people follow leaders, while managers have people who work for them.

A lot of this comes down to three areas; motivation, vision and communication.

In any organisation or group setting, there are individuals that other people seem to just gravitate toward. These people tend to have great motivation, a clear and positive vision and are very good at communicating.

These examples of leadership don’t just appear in business either – it could be on the sports ground, the local interests club or in a not-for-profit organisation.

There is a common quote you may have heard previously about the difference between manager and leader; “Managers have subordinates, leaders have followers”.

Experts agree that those leaders with shining qualities are the ones who not only have a vision; they strive towards it, and get other people to ‘drink the kool aid’ so to speak.

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Leaders tend to have charismatic personalities, are regularly positive and focussed on ensuring the people around them understand the vision and embrace it.

Whereas, managers tend to have a vision, and tell people to either agree with it, or get out.

In my opinion, a great manager also has leadership skills.  They are able to establish a vision within the overall goals of the organisation, and encourage employees to work together as a unit to reach toward that vision.

Interestingly, whilst great managers have leadership skills, it doesn’t mean that all leaders are in a management role. I’m sure you have probably witnessed this yourself; a colleague who everyone, including their direct manager, probably follows, more than the other way around.

You can be both a manager and a leader, or one or the other. When you are in ‘management mode’ you are working towards the short term goals and objectives. When in ‘leadership mode’ you are envisioning a vision of the future, and laying out the groundwork of influencing others to join you in heading towards that future.

Just look at the original English meanings of the words manage and lead;

To manage means to handle, which implies a high degree of direct involvement.

To lead means to go before and prepare the way.

Managers supervise staff in the day-to-day operations of an organisation, whereas Leaders create change within organisations and inspire others towards greatness.

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

– Peter Drucker

5 Ways to be a Leader, Not a Manager

In an article about leadership qualities, titled 5 Ways to be a Leader, Not a Manager, Jennifer Hill is quoted as stating that a leader has five unique qualities, which are;

  1. Listen more and speak less.
  2. Consensus is good but… direction and decisiveness create action.
  3. Anyone can identify a problem. A leader is part of the solution.
  4. Apologize publicly and gloat privately.
  5. Give the hard message.

7 Things Great Leaders Always Do (but Mere Managers Always Fear)

In an article on Inc.com, Bill Murphy Jr outlines seven differences that he sees between leaders and managers. They are;

  1. A great leader connects daily work with great goals. A mere manager focuses only on the short-term.
  1. A great leader thinks of people as people. A mere manager sees only titles or organisational charts.
  1. A great leader wants to earn respect. A mere manager wants to be liked.
  1. A real leader is thrilled when team members achieve great things. A mere manager is threatened.
  1. A great leader empowers people with honesty and transparency. A mere manager parcels out information as if it costs him personally.
  1. A great leader understands that if the team falls short, he is responsible. A mere manager blames the team.
  1. A great leader cares mainly about results. A mere manager is more concerned with process.

No matter what personality elements you feel make the difference between a leader and a manager, we tend to all strive towards becoming a leader.

differences between manager and leader

Image: Unsplash

Key characteristics between leader and manager

This article on Go2HR explains the key characteristics well;

  • Honesty & Integrity: are crucial to get your people to believe you and buy in to the journey you are taking them on
  • Vision: know where you are, where you want to go and enrol your team in charting a path for the future
  • Inspiration: inspire your team to be all they can by making sure they understand their role in the bigger picture
  • Ability to Challenge: do not be afraid to challenge the status quo, do things differently and have the courage to think outside the box
  • Communication Skills: keep your team informed of the journey, where you are, where you are heading and share any roadblocks you may encounter along the way

Key Differences Between Leader and Manager

Another perspective can be found over on Key Differences. This article states;

The difference between leader and manager can be drawn clearly on the following grounds:

    1. A leader influences his subordinate to achieve a specified goal, whereas a manager is a person who manages the entire organisation.
    2. A leader possesses the quality of foresightedness while a manager has the intelligence
    3. A leader sets directions, but a manager plans details.
    4. A manager takes decision while a leader facilitates it.
    5. A leader and the manager is that a leader has followers while the manager has the employees.
    6. A manager avoids conflicts. On the contrary, a leader uses conflicts as an asset.
    7. The manager uses transactional leadership style. As against this, transformational leadership style is used by the leader.
    8. Leaders promote change, but Managers react to the change.
    9. A leader aligns people, while a manager organises people.
    10. A leader strives for doing the right things. Conversely, the manager strives for doing the right things.
    11. The leader focuses on people while a manager focuses on the Process and Procedure.
    12. A leader aims at the growth and development of his teammates while a manager aims at accomplishing the end results.

In Summary

As you can see form the examples we have quoted above, there are plenty of ways of looking at the difference between a leader and manager. No matter how you consider it, there are a few personality traits that I see great leaders display in their work and interactions;

  1. Leaders give freely
  2. Leaders are open and transparent
  3. Leaders encourage others to do better
  4. Leaders take responsibility
  5. Leaders never give up

Good luck in being more of a leader, not a manager!

Lauren Clarke

Lauren Clarke

Lauren writes for 6Q and a number of other blogs from her home office in Australia. She spends her time writing, reading and changing US to International English on many articles that she edits.