3 Key Differences Between a Leader and a Manager

Can managers be considered leaders? The answer is no. These two terms actually differ in many ways, and we’re here to break down the crucial distinctions between them!
by
Management
January 16 | 5 min

One common mistake people make in the business world is using the terms “leader” and “manager” interchangeably. Although these two words seem similar on the surface, in essence, they are two completely different concepts. Yes, being a leader and a manager can overlap or co-exist, but being able to grasp a clear distinction between the two is crucial for your business. It is with fully understanding these two terms that you will be able to recognize what kind of role you need to fill depending on what situation you’re in or what your business needs.

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Here are the main differences between these two ideas:

1. Managers exist to direct, while leaders exist to coach
One of the main traits that a manager needs to possess is the ability to direct. Since they are responsible for overseeing day-to-day operations at work, managers need to be able to stay on top of things — they must make sure tasks are handed out efficiently and carried out diligently by the employees.

Leaders, on the other hand, try as hard as they can to resist the temptation of telling people exactly what to do and how to do it. This is because they exist to serve as a guide of sorts, showing people how to do things instead of ordering them. Leadership is a skill of influencing, not ordering.

2. Managers play by the rule book, while leaders think outside the box
As with any formal system, there is a certain set of rules and regulations you need to adhere to. In a manager’s case, since they are usually bound by different hierarchies of a company, they are expected to establish control over their employees and/or team. The main goal of any manager is to make sure the employees stick to the system put into place by the company and are able to maintain the status quo.

In contrast, to put it plainly, leaders are agents of change. Being a great leader means being able to master the art of innovation. This title requires thinking outside the box, looking past boundaries and challenging already working systems.

3. Managers mitigate risks, while leaders take them
To make sure that the business is running as smoothly as possible, managers need to ensure that every decision they make is well thought out and that every step is calculated. One wrong move, made personally or by their subordinates, might create a domino effect, which is effectively detrimental to the company. This is why it is imperative that they try as hard as possible to mitigate risks.

Leaders, on the other hand, should be willing to take the unknown leap. Because they aren’t always bound by a formal job description, these people are free to try new things. Even if they fail miserably, there is always room for mistakes with little to no effect on others.

Thanks to keydifferences.com, here is a comparison chart to quickly break down the fundamental distinctions between leaders and managers:

To summarize, a good leader always brings about change, while a good manager will maintain stability. Although these two terms are very different, that doesn’t mean they can’t work hand-in-hand. Managers, though sometimes faced with the restraints of rules and regulations, need to possess leadership qualities to get their team to believe in them and their capabilities of carrying out the role.

In the same light, leaders would eventually need to be able to lay down the law and get organized, or else they won’t be able to put their innovative ideas in place. According to Peter Drucker, the father of management thinking, “management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things.”

Leadership is a quality that enables individuals to influence, while managing people entails a multitude of discipline to be put into practice. However, for an organization to be successful, there must be a balance of both.

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