Manager vs Leader

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: February 22, 2022  •  6 min read  •  Business
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You might be a manager, but that doesn’t mean you’re a leader. There are plenty of differences between a manager and a leader. If you want to become a leader, it’s important to understand these differences.

Most adults have worked for several managers at different jobs. Sometimes, they are great, other times they are horrible. However, you’ve likely also worked for someone you admired. Usually, this is a person that is a leader and not just a manager.

The differences between a manager and a leader is a pretty long list. Let’s look at some of the key differences, along with what both of these are.

Manager vs Leader

What is a Manager?

A manager is someone in charge of a staff. This person will likely spend time planning, organizing, delegating, solving problems, and providing a structure for their staff. Typically, a manager is a type of position in an organization and a title.

What is a Leader?

A leader doesn’t have to be a manager, but they can be. Leaders are found in many walks of life and often have specific characteristics including the ability to innovate and motivate. They can inspire others and tend to focus on the people.

Leaders help to form a vision of the future and set the tone. They embrace change and empower others, often those working underneath them.

Manager vs Leader: The Differences

While leaders can be managers and managers can be leaders, not all managers are leaders. It’s also possible to be a leader without becoming a manager.

There are key differences between managers and leaders. Here are a few of the main differences.

Vision vs. Goals

Leaders create a vision or paint a picture of what is possible. They will engage their people and inspire them to make that vision a reality. Often, leaders will help activate people to achieve something much larger by working together with the entire team.

Managers, on the other hand, set goals and get out the measuring stick to make sure workers live up to those goals. A good example of this is a sales manager setting a quota for their sales staff.

Unique vs. Copy

If you’re a leader, you’re a unique person that is very self-aware. You are likely confident in who you are and you’re a rather transparent and authentic person.

Managers can be copied. They can be taught how to manage and often adopt a style of managing from someone else, usually the manager they worked for.

Taking Risks vs. Controlling Risks

Risk takers tend to be leaders, while managers are expected to control the risk for the company. A leader understands that failure is likely a part of the journey to success. Managers tend to control issues and help to minimize risk.

Coaching vs. Directing

If you develop excellent leadership skills, you will likely coach your team. Leaders will see their people as competent and capable of achieving more than they realize. However, a manager does a bit more directing by telling their people what to do and often telling them how to do it. They assign tasks and oversee the tasks as they are accomplished.

Leaders will never micro-manage. They trust their people and often know how to play to their strengths. They might help their team by coaching them through a task, but they don’t micromanage their team.

Long-term vs. Short-term

Leaders think long-term, while managers think short-term. A leader is very intentional in their decision-making. They want to motivate their team to achieve something bigger and often seek to achieve a future goal.

Managers, on the other hand, focus on shorter-term goals. They seek accolades and acknowledgment for short-term achievements.

Change vs. Status Quo

Leaders are often the ones that welcome change and usher in new things. They innovate and embrace things changing as they move forward. If you’re a leader, you’re likely a disrupter, too.

Managers tend to maintain the status quo. They work within a proven system to produce measurable and predictable results. They might help to refine the system, but changing the system isn’t something a manager will likely do.

Relationship Building vs. System Building

When you decide you want to be a leader, you will become a relationship builder. As a leader, you will focus on people to realize your vision. This includes stakeholders, employees, and anybody else that is necessary to achieve the vision and long-term goals.

Managers tend to build systems or work within systems that are already in place. They set and achieve goals by focusing on the analytical.

Fans vs Employees

Leaders have fans. They have people that follow them and support them. Sometimes, this goes as far as developing people that will promote you as a leader. They help build the brand and help work towards the goal. Leaders don’t just have cogs in the machine or system that work for them.

Managers have employees. They have people that want to please the boss and follow directions. However, their employees don’t become fans or promoters of them. In some cases, the employees don’t even like the manager very much.

Manager vs Leader: Shared Characteristics

While managers and leaders are rather different, they do share some characteristics. Of course, these characteristics are assuming the manager is a good manager. Not-so-good managers may lack these characteristics.

Managers and leaders share the following characteristics:

These characteristics are found in both leaders and managers.

Do you want to be a Manager or a Leader?

You get to choose. Yes, you can become a manager by your job title, but you can also be a leader. There is nothing wrong with being a manager, but the best managers are also leaders. Of course, you don’t have to be a manager to be a great leader.

Since you now know what the difference is between a manager and a leader, you can choose. With the right characteristics and skills, you can be a manager, a leader, or both.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path. I, personally, am the high school dropout son of two teacher parents. So how did I get here? That story is coming soon!