Top 5 Differences Between a Leader and a Manager

Today’s workplaces require strong leadership to succeed. Skilled leaders represent a vision, integrating all areas of the business into a united entity. They demonstrate characteristics that the larger organization adopts, defining the overall personality of the business while remaining abreast of current trends to steer the ship.

It’s important to understand the differences between leaders and managers. While managers administer daily operations, leaders guide organizations toward larger goals. Leaders must possess the unique ability to develop and achieve employee advocacy for a mission.

What are the top five differences between managers and leaders?

  1. Leaders create a vision; Managers execute the vision

    While managers tactically implement an organization’s vision, leaders develop the vision in the first place. More importantly, leaders motivate team members to understand and advocate for the vision. A full 72 percent of internationally surveyed employees expect their leaders to be forward-looking, although they don’t expect the same from their colleagues.

  2. Leaders create change; Managers react to change

    Leaders value innovation and challenge across the organization to continuously improve. Managers tend to be order-takers who implement instructions. Research by McKinsey and Company found that employees correlate strong leadership to organizational innovation success – just as they correlate poor leadership to below-average business innovation.

  3. Leaders are people-focused; Managers are structure-focused

    Vineet Nayar, author of “Employees First, Customers Second,” emphasizes the ability to “influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organizational success” in the role of leadership. Leaders focus on the motivations and values of people, inspiring trust, and an organic following. Managers rely on organizational hierarchy and structure to command results.

  4. Leaders seek feedback; Managers minimize weaknesses

    Strong leaders want to get better. Zanger and Folkman found that surveyed leaders who solicited the most feedback ranked at the 86th percentile of leadership effectiveness, while leaders who solicited the least ranked at the 15th percentile. Leaders seek to continuously improve, but managers tend to see feedback as negative and prefer to avoid it.

  5. Leaders lead people; Managers manage work

    Peter Drucker summed it up: “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.” True leaders are focused on leading people through motivational tactics that encourage people to freely follow. Managers ensure everyone does the tactical work. Leaders guide supporters, and managers guide the completion of work.

Becoming a successful leader requires a varied skill set. Though others often interchange the titles of “leader” and “manager,” the roles are distinct. We have developed a robust leadership training program, A Better Leader, to help enhance leadership skills. Contact us to learn more about how we can help your organization succeed.

Chris Craddock

As the leader of Projections' production team, Chris loves to inspire others to perform at the highest levels! From the most challenging leadership opportunities to brainstorming the latest topics leaders want to learn about, Chris provides clear direction and vision.