6 Differences Between Being a Leader and a Manager

When I first landed what I thought was the best job ever, I was sure managers and leaders were one and the same. I mean, how could someone manage people and not be a good leader?

Well, turns out I was wrong. Just a couple of months in, I realized my boss was all over the place. There were long-term plans but the execution was borderline terrible. Everything just seemed all over the place.

That’s when it hit me – my boss is a good leader but a bad manager.

Now, working with popular recruiting agencies should help you pick the best candidate for the manager position. Recruiters can tell if a candidate has leadership characteristics and skills, or not. But it can happen to everyone.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between leaders and managers. However, before we do that, let’s see what management and leadership are.

Being a Leader and a Manager

  • What is leadership?

A leader’s job is to create a positive change through meticulous planning, vision, and strategy. Adaptive decision-making is also one of the key attributes of good leaders. 

Unlike management, leadership has little to do with titles and a job description. A charismatic personality is important, but that’s not all. 

Leadership looks a lot like a positive social influence that inspires people to become more productive and achieve a previously set goal. Of course, a leader is someone who takes the initiative and shapes the vision, which is exactly why people follow them. 

  • What is management?

Management is about making sure your subordinates are regularly performing previously planned day-to-day tasks. 

A manager is someone who’s in charge of planning, organizing, leading, and controlling. However, they spend a lot of time focused on meeting organizational goals without considering other aspects of the business. 

Now, many people believe that managers lack empathy and understanding. Sadly, most of us have had experience with a boss that just doesn’t know how to openly communicate and address our concerns. 

But good managers are expected to do all those things and more. This has nothing to do with leadership. Both managers and leaders can fail at their jobs. 

Now, if you’re still not sure what’s the difference between these two roles, let’s go through them together.

  • Leadership is about the vision; managing is about the mission.

To understand this, you should be familiar with the terms’ vision’ and ‘mission.’

A vision statement is a short sentence describing the future-facing goals and ambitions of the company. It explains what you’re trying to achieve long-term. For instance, here’s what Tesla wants to achieve in the future: “Create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world’s transition to electric vehicles.”

A mission statement is closely related to the vision statement and these two terms are often used interchangeably. It’s a phrase explaining what the company does in the present to reach its goal and how it does it. Now let’s take a look at Tesla’s mission statement: “to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass-market electric cars to market as soon as possible.”

As you can see, the vision statement says a lot about the goal but nothing about how to reach it. Leaders are those that come up with ideas, while managers think of ways those ideas can be made into reality.

  • Managers organize and leaders innovate

When a new project comes along, a manager has to break it down into smaller sections and come up with an execution plan and a timeline. On top of that, they have to make sure the team is sticking to the plan. Of course, the more people there are in the team, the harder it gets. But ultimately, it’s what holds people together. 

Without that, all that’s left is an idea.

And, someone has to come up with that idea, right? Well, that’s something leaders do. They’re creative, which is something that makes them stand out and come up with fresh and exciting plans. They’re constantly looking to improve things by implementing something new. 

It’s the manager’s job to harness that and allow leaders to express these ideas. 

  • Leaders take risks while managers minimize them.

Since leaders are creative souls, they tend to break the rules from time to time in an effort to take things to the next level. They risk quite a lot and it’s critical that they’re allowed to do that. They may not always succeed, but that’s okay. The only way of improving is by trying, right? And, people will still respect them and perceive them positively.

Managers do quite to opposite. They need to anticipate negative events and mitigate their effects as much as possible. This is called risk management. 

Whenever they notice the schedule or objectives are unrealistic, they respond to it and try to fix it. When deliverables aren’t clear and the team is confused about their role and responsibilities, the manager puts extra effort into clarifying all that and getting the job done. 

  • Where managers see problems, leaders see opportunity.

Things don’t always go according to plan, and when that happens, managers often see a problem they have to fix. They will put a lot of effort into thinking of ways to solve that problem before it escalates. And it’s even better if no one even noticed it happened in the first place.

But there’s a bigger picture they often fail to see.

Sure, a problem needs a solution, but it’s also an opportunity to learn and grow. Unlike managers, leaders are aware of that. They’ll notice when there’s room for improvement and come up with strategies to avoid them in the future.

  • Leaders shape the future; managers shape the present.

As leaders are people with ideas and innovations, they don’t think about the present much. Instead, they spend hours thinking about the changes they could make in the future. They think way ahead and capitalize on future opportunities.

Managers, on the other hand, shape the present. Their goal is to implement procedures on budgeting, organizational structuring, and staffing. Keep in mind that doesn’t mean managers don’t plan things ahead. A lot of their work involves planning. It just means they don’t look that far into the future or make long-term strategic decisions.

  • Managers stick to the rules while leaders break them.

Due to the nature of their job, managers are unlikely to break the rules. Their job is to make sure everything goes according to the plan, so following the rules is actually beneficial to the business and the team. 

However, managers sometimes fail to notice some rules simply make no sense, which is where leaders come into play.

Leaders tend to question the rules, especially if the rules are traditional and don’t exactly fit the present situation. This behavior can be problematic at times, especially because it can encourage other people to do the same. On the other hand, someone has to challenge the rules from time to time.

Sometimes, that’s the only way to grow.

  • Conclusion

Leadership and management are two completely different things. Some people are great at managing but make poor leaders. Your really nice boss might be a great leader but is bad at setting boundaries and managing other people.

Simply put, it all comes down to this: leaders lead and managers manage. 

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