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Posted by Brett Romero - 28 August, 2019

Leader vs. Manager: Which one are you?

 Are you a leader or a manager? This is often a confounding question that stumps even some of the most experienced CEOs. There are many similarities as well as differences between the two positions. And of course, each serves its own purpose to contribute to the company’s goals. However, is one really better than the other? 

A lot of articles do propose that being a leader is what every person should strive for, however, there is actually nothing wrong with being a manager. In many situations, a manager will serve an organization better than a leader would. At the same time, having a leader on board in critical instances is also very important for a company.

Here are some of the differences between the two positions to help you determine which one you identify with better.


1. Leaders Focus On The Vision; Managers Concentrate On The Task At Hand.

A company without a clear-cut goal will find it hard to succeed but at the same time, if nothing is getting done, it will also get nowhere - no matter how great the vision is. This illustrates how equally important leaders and managers are.

Leader vs. managerSource

Leaders are often the people who are focused on the bigger picture. They lead and inspire employees towards the end goal. They are more likely to encourage collaboration at work and they expect employees to go above and beyond their job descriptions.

On the other hand, managers are more concerned with meeting the company’s expected targets. Are the sales aligned with the projections? Are the social media ad placements performing better? Why was last week’s production output lower than normal? These are concerns managers worry about. They make sure that day-to-day tasks are being achieved on a regular basis.


2. Leaders Are Results-Driven; Managers Thrive On Process 

Most leaders do not really give a care in the world if an employee turns up for work in a suit or in gym wear. Nor do they concern themselves where and what time the employees perform their tasks. Want to work from home or from a French villa thousands of miles away? Not a problem. Are you more productive in sweatpants and sneakers? Go for it!

The important thing for leaders is that the results delivered are outstanding. Because leaders are more focused on the big picture, they worry less about how a task is completed. They also do not believe in spoon-feeding and would leave employees on their own devices to figure out how to get things done. A leader wouldn’t hover over an employee or make an issue if someone is taking too much coffee breaks.

Managers believe that there’s a process for everything. They believe that employees should follow step-by-step procedures in order to effectively complete their tasks. They lean on a more linear approach to doing things. Managers often utilize project plans, schedules, reports, and to-do lists in managing their work and their staff.

Managers are the ones who design employee training programs to ensure that every individual in their staff has the right knowledge and skills to perform their job roles properly.

Once training is completed, they expect that employees will do their work as directed. This way, they can pre-determine the results and create their projections with peace of mind. They also concern themselves with details like the time employees report to work or whether the office rulebook is being followed.


3. Leaders Recognize Out-Of-The-Box Thinkers; Managers Reward Achievers

Leaders often think highly of employees who are not scared to innovate and break the rules to achieve their goals. For them, leading means encouraging people to their fullest potential. They are more likely to hire a high school dropout to be a senior manager over someone with a Master’s Degree. Leaders are also more likely to encourage job perks to make sure employees are happy and productive while at work in order to get excellent results. 

Leader qualitiesSource

With managers, they approve of people who accomplish objectives and targets without veering off the game plan. Because they are process-driven, they typically do not like people who challenge authority. Managers would rather work with people who understand their job roles and complete their tasks without any drama.

They take annual performance reviews seriously and believe that these are essential to measure employee development. Instead of giving out job perks for everyone, most managers are more likely to approve of giving out bonuses only to the best performers.


4. Leaders are Risk-Takers; Managers Go For The Tried-And Tested Approach

In terms of decision-making, there is also a difference between leaders and managers. Leaders are not afraid to take risks. They are not afraid of change because they are actually the people who drive change in a company. They are not satisfied with just getting to their goals, instead, they are willing to shake up the status quo just to achieve unprecedented success. Failures are seen as learnings required to get to the end goal rather than weaknesses.

This does not mean that leaders are careless. Of course, most leaders take risks that are already calculated, but in terms of attitude, they are bolder in making such decisions.

In contrast, managers are more cautious when it comes to taking risks. They prefer to take the guaranteed path rather than gambling on something unsure. Managers will more likely question and doubt a proposed change before applying anything new to the process.

They like calculating, estimating, and projecting possible outcomes before taking a decision. They are also more concerned with the details of how a certain project will run and take its course before agreeing to anything.


How To Lead And Manage At The Same Time

There are certain situations where an organization will benefit more from a leader rather than a manager – and vice versa.

Creative businesses like ad agencies, design studios, and digital publishing companies often require a strong leader to make sure the company moves forward. A leader who is more of a visionary and less authoritarian tends to inspire creatives into accomplishing outstanding results.

However, having an effective manager may work better for companies with critical quality control requirements like manufacturing, food production, call centers, and building construction. These are often companies that do not really require any deviation from stringent processes. 

If you are a business owner of a start-up or a small company, you may be forced to take on both roles. In this situation, carefully gauge your current set-up, how your employees work, and where you want your business to go. Each role has its pros and cons so whether you need to be a manager, or a leader, or a little bit of both would really depend on the goals of your company.


What are the top 4 differences between a leader and a manager?

  1. Leaders Focus On The Vision; Managers Concentrate On The Task At Hand.
  2. Leaders Are Results-Driven; Managers Thrive On Process 
  3. Leaders Recognize Out-Of-The-Box Thinkers; Managers Reward Achievers
  4. Leaders are Risk-Takers; Managers Go For The Tried-And Tested Approach

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About the author: Richard Kao is the Sales Director of the UK-based office and tech solutions provider COS Sales. His day to day tasks involve managing client accounts, helping customers with queries, and directing his team to ensure the best results. He has extensive experience in the B2B world and lots to knowledge to share as a result.

Topics: Management

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