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3 Differences between Leaders and Managers

A team or organisation will always rely on its people to effectively carry out their specific roles.  Whilst some roles may be considered more important than others, there is still a requirement for every team or department to engage with others in the organisation in order for it to be successful.Not only will you find leaders towards the top-end of an organisation, hopefully they can also be found at various levels within each team or department.

One of the key things that an organisation has to be distinct about is having the right people in the right roles, ensuring that leadership and management positions have personnel who have the appropriate skill-sets and competencies.  It is possible to have the qualities that will make you a brilliant leader and manager but few people have all of these qualities, so it makes sense to take care about who sits where in an organisation.  There are plenty of great managers that lack leadership qualities and there are as many great leaders who will inspire those around them but who are less effective when it comes to delivering tasks and processes.  I’m sure we all know someone who talks a good job and delivers very little; possibly because they overplay their leadership role and forget that things actually still need to get done.  Talking a good job is fine if there are others ready deliver.

There are of course many differences between leaders and managers, but I’ve picked out three distinct ones that capture the essence of what a leader does and what a manager does.

A leader innovates while a manager administers

For an organisation to move forward and make due progress, there is a need to continually think of new ideas or at least remain fresh.  This can refer to new products or service ideas, new ways for dealing with customers or even improved ways for maintaining staff morale; but there is always a need to be looking forwards and having a clear vision of the future.

This is where leaders come to the fore because a leader will be able to come up with the plans and ideas that will help drive an organisation in a given direction, inspiring others to follow of their own free will.  I say this because the best leaders don’t coerce and cajole, they exude sufficient qualities that allow others to support and follow naturally.  There is also a necessity for a leader to remain aware of the latest developments in their industry, so that if there are new skills, techniques, technologies or other things that can benefit the organisation, they have the knowledge and the qualities to take people in the right direction.

A manager is more focused on making sure that everything that is already in place remains in place and is working well.  Whether it is staffing issues, productivity or efficiency, a manager will be looking to maintain the bottom line and keep everything working smoothly. Once any new ideas or changes are implemented, the manager’s role is to ensure that these new steps are carried out as required.  The manager will create, implement, measure, deliver and review the policies and procedures as necessary to ensure that the vision and direction of the leader is kept on track.

A leader inspires trust whilst a manager requires authority

Respect and trust are attributes that people don’t automatically gain from others; there is a need for trust and respect to be earned.  We know that already, but there is a very strong argument to suggest that a good leader, through their actions and role-model behaviour, will automatically gain the respect from those around them.  A leader is one that needs to show innovation and belief in working practices and products in order that their vision, strategy and direction will have the buy-in from others in the organisation. Of course, there is a need for a leader to have something about them that inspires others.  Typical leaders are confident, charismatic, energetic and communicative.  They also tend to create a sense of positivity in others.  Think of the successful historical leaders and consider what made them successful. 

For a manager, the requirements are different and they don’t have to have this level of acceptance from team members or to be the provider of their inspiration.  A manager needs to work effectively with their team, getting the best from them and working out the best ways to engage them.  A manager has a number of functional elements such as pay, bonuses, promotion and line-management authority within a company to use their authority to ensure results.  Whereas a leader is more about the creation of something visionary that is so worth following; this generates its own level of interest amongst others.

A leader wants “What” and “Why”, a manager needs “How” and “When”

“What” and “why” are questions that are asked of others that will force the person being asked to respond and justify what they have been doing.  For a leader, there is a need for people to be accountable, no matter where they operate within the organisation.  A good leader will be able to ask higher management levels about projects and the way forward for an organisation. Leadership is all about dealing with people.

A manager will focus on the “how” and “when” which are questions designed around giving answers about workload, delivery times or targets. The manager is not really concerned with the justification or the full story behind what is happening, they are more concerned about targets and keeping things on track.  This correlates with the idea that the manager is focused on the bottom line and ensuring everything runs smoothly.  Management is about dealing with stuff and numbers.

The different roles and work provided by leaders and managers are both important and they are interchangeable.  Successful organisations need to have capable managers and leaders and with their different qualities they will be able to move forwards towards success.

Rob Hoblin

Leadership & Management Coach – Coaching For Change