Manager Vs. Leader – The Difference!

Manager Vs. Leader – The Difference!

Manager vs Leader

Many of us may feel there is very little difference between a manager and a leader except that the former is official, while the latter isn’t. However, the differences between these two personnel relate to their approaches to a task, people management, beliefs and perspectives.

In the corporate environment, I have come across quite a few knowledgeable managers. Indeed, they are the best in their field. However, their subordinates are unenthusiastic about work and they produce lackluster quality of work. Their productivity falls with every passing day. They are disloyal to their managers and take reactive steps against their managers. Why? What makes the difference between a successful manager who commands the loyalty of their subordinates and an unsuccessful one?

Leadership Skills: Managers tend to focus more on results and processes rather than people. In fact, they alienate the people involved in projects and are not over-pleased if their subordinates achieve expected results. They also pay little attention to the sentiments of the subordinates.

In contrast, leaders focus on people and their feelings, rather than just results. They listen to the concerns of the subordinates and try to resolve or, at least, show the way to overcome them. Thus, they earn the respect of their subordinates and command their loyalty. This is why a leader has followers and not subordinates.

Formal Authority: Managers have formal authority by which they give instructions to their subordinates and expect their compliance. They order their subordinates to do a particular task within a set deadline. They even shout at their subordinates if they fail to meet their deadline. Leaders, on the other hand, lead by example. They do not just announce the task and deadline but show and lead the team to the deadline.

Credit and Blame: Managers take credit and give blame. They are self-centered. But leaders are the opposite. They give credit and take blame. Thus, they show assurance that they are with their subordinates through thick and thin. Subordinates, in turn, show their commitment to their leader and do whatever it takes to make their leader succeed.

Objectives: Managers are obsessed with their objectives. They concentrate more on short-term results. They are not risk-takers and never let their subordinates go beyond their present commitments. In contrast, leaders are visionaries. They encourage their subordinates to experiment and come up with innovative solutions which makes the latter’s job enjoyable.

To be an effective manager, it is necessary to combine one’s managerial skills with leadership. It is not necessary to be born a leader because one can acquire leadership skills with appropriate training and consistent practice.

Do share your thoughts on the same.

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  • Hi Asma,

    An interesting post.

    Ultimately, how well a manager or leader develops into their roles depends on how well they have been trained in the relevant skills at the time of their transition from individual contributor to manager- leader. All too often this never takes place and the ‘in at the deep end’ approach is the norm. Nor does an MBA provide any guarantee of success – too much theory and not enough practice!

    Since 1997 when we delivered our model of performance skills we have developed over 100,000 managers in the key performance skills in the areas of managing SELF, managing PEOPLE and managing WORK.

    Managing and leading are two distinctly differing roles – to be a good manager does not necessarily imply being a good leader; much of a manager’s role is about getting results through their team and using the processes very effectively. Underpinning the leader role is a need to understand self skills (behavioural) and how these relate to maximising individual and team performance; it is much more of the interpersonal as opposed to the process. Too often these roles become confused to the extent that the term ‘leader’ appears to have become a generic title for an all embracing role.

    My final point is that development in the leadership pipeline is not an automatic route for all – many of those selected for manager-leader roles would be more suited to continuing their roles as individual contributors to a level of technical/professional mastery rather than automatically assuming that everyone has the ability to develop their skills (or indeed want to) in a manager-leader role. This is particularly prevalent in IT, Finance, Law and to a lesser extent Engineering, where the key drivers are the expertise in the discipline first and foremost. This invariably creates a conflict in creating the right balance between technical expertise and getting results through people. This often makes the task of developing effective managers and leaders a particular challenge.

  • Natalia Filina

    There is a difference between managers and leaders. The difference between being a manager and being a leader is simple. Management is a career. Leadership is a calling. Based on the Paretto’s principle, probably only 20% of managers are leaders…

  • Characteristics of Leadership

    Not All Managers Make Good Leaders

    Leaders Look for Common Ground and Common Understanding

    Leaders are Intellectually Honest

    Leaders Make Decisions Based On What Is Good For The Organization – Not What Is Good For Themselves

    Corporate Scandals are a Failure in Leadership – Not a Failure of the Corporation or most of the people who work there

    Leaders Are Able To Inspire And Motivate People To Give 100%
    Leaders Care About People

    People Want To Follow Leaders

    Leaders Recognize Success – and Accept Responsibility for the Failures

    Leaders Learn From Their Mistakes

    Leaders Are Not Always The Smartest Person In The Room – And They Know It

    Leaders Are Not Always Right And They Know It

    Leaders create a positive legacy for the Next Generation

  • I’m not convinced. In my experience, effective managers are well organised, disciplined, checklist, task and process oriented wherease inspiring leaders are more about big picture, looking for opportunities, perhaps more strategic, more creative. We see this in many entrepreneurs and business owners who then bring in effective managers to run their businesses.

    FYI I left the same comment on the Linkedin discussion board in the Brand and Communications Management group.

  • Asma,

    Interesting post that brings out the same question being asked in many places.

    The key to your question is in your statement where you stated, “a successful manager who commands the loyalty of their subordinates”

    Loyalty is like respect it is something one has to earn not command. If you command an action (except in the military) then you are setting yourself up to be resented and sabotaged.

    A favorite saying of some of us leadership developers is that you manage a process and you lead people!

    You learn how to manage in school while you are obtaining your MBA. However, schools do not teach the art of leadership. Those that can combine the rigors of management with the finesse of leadership will be the ones that are successful.

    Good leader/managers will have a more productive team, a more innovative team as free thinking is encouraged not stifled, better morale, better collaboration, better communications, and I could go on but you get the point.

    Most managers that I have worked for did not keep their egos in check and they were not great people to work for as they refused to listen to ideas that would improve things as they didn’t understand this new process.

    Leaders are humble and know that their success is based on everyone they lead being successful. They are willing to listen to good ideas and then open discussion to take it to a great idea.

    Not all managers can be leaders and not all leaders can be managers but when you find the ones that can do both you have struck gold.

    Mike brings up excellent points in his final statement there is much truth in what he says.
    Bob’s checklist is accurate.

  • Asma,

    I believe there are three archetypes of exexutives : managers , entrepreneurs and leaders, all with different strengths and different skills. Most of us have a piece of all three archetypes, but most of us also have some dominance or they might be quite balanced. But there are also roles or tasks, that are more manager, more entrepreneur or more leader focused. A normal career starts with a manager role and the higher you climb up, there more the leadwer role is required. But the interesting question is – how does someone perform if archetype and role differ.In my MEL-Institute, which is research baes you find more to these and related topics.
    Looking forward to your answer.
    Best Udo

  • Matthew

    As a 16+ year Sergeant in the USAF, Leadership is something I happen to know a little about 🙂 Although there are uncertainties, differences in personalities, and differences in motivation levels as a whole, there are really only a few key concepts when it comes to leading people.

    * Lead by example – No one respects a leader that isn’t willing to get their hands equally as dirty as the people they lead. If you are not willing to do the “dirty” jobs… they won’t be either.

    * Be approachable – Your subordinates will not respect you if they do not feel you are “approachable”. Unapproachability on your part, leads to feelings of inferiority on their part, and a subsequent breakdown in the morale.

    * Trust your people – no one wants a manager to “lead” them by micro-managing everything they do. Train your people correctly, and then trust that they have the competence to complete each task without your assistance.

    * Discipline – Needs to be EQUALLY accompanied by praise. If the ratio is unequal, you will have a workforce that is depressed and lacks confidence…. or you will have a workforce that becomes complacent and lazy.

    * Don’t be afraid to tell your subordinates how important their job is – Nothing will breed poor performance more than feelings of “insignificancy”. If they “FEEL” that their job is important (even if it isn’t), they are more likely to put forth thae extra effort to ensure it is done right.

    * Be FIRM in everything you do…. whether it be praise, discipline, training, supervising, etc. A true leader will not waver their feelings, nor will they back down to opposition. Stand up for your subordinates, and do not back down from disciplining them if they need it.

    * Accept and provide constructive criticism. Often the newest, youngest, least experienced worker will have the best ideas to increase productivity – listen to them.

    I didn’t find this in any “book” or anything… they are just rules I’ve developed and adopted that generally work with almost any personality type.


  • Margaret Moon

    A sense of humour is an essential part of the managerial toolkit. People will work hard if the work is meaningful to them and they know they will be supported and trusted to do their best. Don’t go it alone and talk it out, have a sense of humour, don’t get too hungry, tired, thirsty or emotional at work, be relaxed and remember that every midnight brings a whole new fresh day to ponder Einstein’s thought that “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.”

  • Vijay

    Bottom line – for a manager, results is sacrosanct – a manager wants results or appreciation by whatever means he can (ethical or could be unethical in some cases), could be by belittling his subordinates whereas for a leader, results is also important, his focus is more on developing the individual to achieve the results time and again…whereas for a manager it is just trying to insert a key in a lock and the same key in every other lock…and a leader has a strategy for each occasion which whose long term focus would be on results and short term on getting the individual to achieve his goals….a manager does not always tolerate failure and the first instinct would be to blame the individual without going into the reasons for the failure whereas the leader would look at the entire situation in full perspective before blaming any one

  • Janet

    Problem in today’s hierarchical company structure is that you need to be a manager to climb your career ladder. As an individual contributor, no matter how good you are, there is seldom an opportunity to grow in rank, and, consequently in salary. Hence we quickly loose quite capable individual contributors to a manager role they might not be suitable for. A good manager needs their team to achieve results USING the leadership role and leadership skills that equip him/her to motivate his/her team.

  • Janet makes a very good point. The problem is one of organisation design where in effect there should be two parallel routes for employee career development…one for functional mastery as an individual contributor and one for managers….leadership is applicable across both roles.
    However, it would take a quantum shift in thinking to make these kind of structural changes although I do believe there are a number of organisations who do recognise that not all technical/professional specialists are capable of or want to make the transition to manager-leader roles. In such cases there is the opportunity to be recognised in terms of their status and rewarded for their expertise and mastery as an individual contributor at a senior level.
    Interesting to here other peoples thoughts on this!

  • If people are unenthusiastic, then almost certainly they are infected by an environment and people that fail to inspire them. This needn’t be the fault of their immediate manager. It can be the consequence of the tone set by the senior management team (i.e. through lack of organizational leadership). This is often manifested by lack of energy, little pride in the business and its products, poor empathy with customers etc. Add to this a manager who doesn’t feel inspired and it’s no wonder there’s a major problem.

    Yes, the manager’s leadership will make a difference, but it’s ‘personal leadership’ that matters. That is, the ability of the manager to inspire him/herself, so that in spite of an adverse environment the manager automatically radiates personal belief and enthusiasm in what they’re doing. This then becomes contagious amongst their people.