Do you ever wonder about the subtle yet profound differences between leading and managing? At first glance, it might seem like a mere play on words, but in reality, these roles encompass unique skills and responsibilities. Being a manager doesn’t automatically make you a leader, and being a leader doesn’t make you a great manager.
In this article, we’ll go beyond these titles as we explore their differences not just on the surface but as well as the distinctions they have in terms of skill, expectation, and accountability.
Leading vs. Managing: The Surface
These two terms are commonly interchanged. That’s why it’s important to know and figure out how they’re distinct at the surface. From their origins alone, they’re already different; one is leading the other is managing.
On the surface, it’s like comparing two different professions with a single goal. However, if you look at it in a deeper and more fundamental sense, you’ll understand why each is equally important
Key Differences Between Leaders and Managers
We know a boss when we see one and a leader when we feel one. Most of us want a leader, but can a leader properly manage people to the point of success? Let’s take a look at the differences between a manager and a leader in a workplace setting.
1. Leaders Lead, Managers Manage
It sounds cliché and easier said than understood. Still, a manager’s job is to be able to manage, organize, and streamline processes for a business’s operations to run smoother and more seamlessly. Leaders, on the other hand, focus on influencing, inspiring, and motivating people to contribute and excel toward a specific goal.
Mark Cuban is an excellent example of a leader. When he bought the Dallas Mavericks in 2000, he asked his sales team to call old customers and told them he would do it too. He wanted his team to see that he wouldn’t ask them to do something he wouldn’t do himself.¹
“I wanted everybody that worked with me to see that if I asked them to do it, I’d do it, too.”
2. Influence and Advice Over Power and Command
Leaders have acolytes and followers, while managers have inferiors and subordinates. One thing that managers tend to do is create a circle of power in which everyone in that circle receives advice and assistance.
Leaders encourage their employees to approach things differently, even outside their hierarchy. The fastest way to determine whether you’re a leader or a manager is to see how many people come to you for advice.
Through power and command, managers are able to culture processes strategically. For instance, they can implement a new business procedure during a meeting. Leaders focus more on giving advice to people and influencing them to do better. This doesn’t just meet goals and requirements, but also empowers employees and team members. Good leaders usually make good managers!
3. Creating vs. Counting
Executives and business owners hire managers because of one thing – to successfully manage goals, help people grow, and mitigate risk. Managers can answer “How’s the business?” in such a fashion that they can dive deep into the details of everything.
On the other hand, leaders aren’t hired; they’re honed. Although you can look for leadership skills, it won’t be until the time you need a leader to step up that you’ll know you have found one.
Let’s paint a picture of how managers count and how leaders create. If we ask a salesperson to report every two hours to give an update about leads, the value diminishes. Consider everything at play—the momentum, the number of numbers dialed, confidence from the last call, etc.
Leaders would “create” this value by giving vision to the salesperson. A leader could say, “Could you please handle phone calls while I scrub on more leads for you?” That alone gives the salesperson the idea and motivation that the leader is going above and beyond, creating value they didn’t know was there in the first place.
4. Establishing and Nurturing Company Culture
This is where the line drawn between leaders and managers gets clearer. Company culture is one of the best ways of engaging and empowering your employees, and leaders play a big part in modeling and creating company culture.
Managers, on the other hand, implement and systemize cultural policies and practices. They also work to improve and develop certain aspects of it in collaboration with leaders and other managers.
Related Reading: 5 Tips for Building Trust in the Workplace
Managers Are Titles, Leadership Is Quality
And last but most definitely not least is how these two should be perceived. A manager is a title that requires you to perform roles and responsibilities for the benefit of the organization. But just because you get the bigger responsibility does not make you a leader.
You can train to be a manager; it’s a holistic sense of roles and responsibilities. But leadership is a result of a series of actions that engage, encourage, and inspire others.
Managers train and practice skills, especially when managing people, but leaders are shaped. Leaders pull from their emotions, influence people, and motivate them to bring out the best versions of themselves.
6. Execution and Ideation
At the core, managers excel at putting plans into action efficiently. They transform vague concepts into practical reality by setting up organized systems.
On the other hand, leaders dive into the world of ideas on a grand scale. They not only envision significant concepts but also skillfully convey them to others. Additionally, leaders inspire both team members and those outside the group to achieve goals and meet expectations.
According to a recent survey of 6,000 employees, only 16 percent believe their company effectively communicates goals. This suggests there are fewer leaders in that specific industry.²
Remember, managers and leaders aren’t just separated by their titles. The sheer difference between their roles and functions makes them unique to one another.
To Be a Leader or a Manager?
Being a manager doesn’t always make a leader. And a leader isn’t always good at managing. You can be one, depending on what your company needs more, or you can be both.
Ultimately, the deciding factor of which path to take will vary based on your short and long-term goals, how you want people to perceive you, and if you want to serve as an example for others.
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1 Sauer, Megan. “When Mark Cuban bought the Dallas Mavericks, he refused an office or big desk—here’s why.” 30 Nov. 2022. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/11/26/mark-cuban-didnt-want-an-office-after-buying-the-dallas-mavericks-heres-why.html.
2 “From Chaos to Clarity – Introducing Asana Goals for Organizational Alignment.” Business Wire. 15 Jul. 2020. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200715005168/en/Chaos-Clarity—Introducing-Asana-Goals-Organizational.