Leader vs Manager: Which One Are You?

CoachHub · 14 September 2022 · 5 min read

Can you be a leader without being a manager? Yes. Can you be a manager and still not be a leader? Yes. The answers to these questions highlight the difference between leadership and management. A leader is not guaranteed by their title or position but by their qualities, characteristics and values. 

To understand if you are a leader within your organization or simply an employee in a management position, understand what you stand for, what you communicate by your actions and what visions you have for your work.

What is a leader?

A leader is someone who inspires action and directs the behavior of a group of people. A leader is capable of bringing people together to work towards a shared vision while contributing to good morale and motivating others.

A leader can be found in many domains of life and society and does not necessarily need a title to prove it. There are leaders of a family, a state, a community or a team. The primary quality of leadership is seen in one’s ability to inspire others to work towards their vision, without needing to control their actions directly. They inspire others by their own presence and choices.

Forbes list the following as the qualities that define a great leader:

  1. Sincere enthusiasm
  2. Integrity
  3. Great communication skills
  4. Loyalty
  5. Decisiveness
  6. Managerial competence
  7. Empowerment
  8. Charisma
leader vs manager

What is a manager?

A manager is the business world’s answer to leadership. Managers are hired by an organization to oversee the work of a specific group of people. Managers ensure all tasks are completed and all company guidelines and processes are followed.

A person becomes a manager when given a managerial title. They are then responsible for a group of subordinates whose work defines their success. The manager gives guidance and direction to their team to fulfill specific projects of the business.

There are five basic functions of management:

  1. Planning
  2. Organizing
  3. Staffing
  4. Directing
  5. Controlling

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Leader vs manager: what is the difference?

Vision v goals

Leaders are visionaries. They hold in mind a vision for a better future and they are able to inspire people to work towards it through their behaviors and attitude. Managers focus on goals. Their work is centered around measuring individual performance and achieving specific objectives. Leaders enable people to perform while managers measure people as they perform.

Change v status quo

Leaders are innovators. They welcome change and embrace uncertainty. They are always looking for better ways to do things and are not afraid of the disruption they may cause. They bring a unique contribution to their teams as their authentic selves. Managers follow the status quo. They stick to the processes and systems that they see functioning well around them. Instead of establishing their own style, they adopt theirs from successful people. Leaders create change, managers copy and mimic.

Taking risks v control risk

Leaders are risk takers. They do not let the fear of failure prevent them from taking steps forward. Leaders see uncertainty and failure as an opportunity and lean into the discomfort of risk, using it to grow and improve any situation. Managers actively avoid problems and work to control situations to minimize all risks. Leaders aim for effectiveness, managers aim for efficiency.

Influence v power

Leaders create influence. They have people who back them and support their vision. Leaders affect people outside their line of subordinates and have a wider impact on team morale and company culture. Managers have power. People seek to please managers purely due to their title or position. They control their employees by giving orders but lack the ability to create action through inspiration.

Big picture v short-term

Leaders work towards the big picture. They are highly motivated by a larger purpose or goal and stick to whatever path they believe will get them there. Managers work within short-term objectives. They set minor objectives that can be achieved in a short period of time and focus primarily within this frame. Leaders think about big impact, managers think about their next objective.

People v processes

Leaders invest in relationships. They see the value in bringing people on board with their vision and focus on who they need to connect with and influence. They are aware of what they need to achieve socially in order to achieve their vision. They are good at building the relationships that will get them ahead. Managers build processes. They look at what structures and practices will help them reach their objectives. They analyze and measure performance to get to where they want to be. Leaders build trust, managers build systems.

Guide v control

Leaders trust in people’s abilities to solve their own problems and find their own answers. They are able to give people the space to work toward their own solutions. They give guidance and coach people while allowing them the freedom to work independently. Managers seek to control. They set specific tasks and like to oversee the work of each individual. Leaders help people find their answers, Managers tell people the answer.

How to know if you are a manager or a leader

The following questions should help you determine which one you are:

  • Are you focused on achieving a vision or objectives?
  • Do you give direction or delegate responsibilities?
  • Are you focused on growth or what you are already good at?
  • Do people outside your team come to you for advice?
  • Do you feel respected for your qualities or your position?
  • Are you proactive or reactive?
  • Are you intrinsically or externally motivated?
  • Do you motivate and inspire or direct and control?
  • Do you set a direction or plan activities?
  • Do you inspire growth or reward and punish?
  • Do you see conflict as an asset or avoid conflict?
  • Do you promote change or stick to what works?
  • Do you prioritize effectiveness or efficiency?
  • Do think there is more value in relationships or processes?

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In conclusion

The good news is that becoming a leader does not require attaining a title or promotion. You can decide to develop yourself into the leader you wish to be. Good leadership stems from having strong core values, an inspiring vision and effective communication skills.

All of the above qualities can be learned and developed. Consider the impact of working with a coach who can provide expert tools and advice to help you enhance your innate strengths. Working with a coach will enable you to develop the qualities of a leader and reach your leadership potential.

The essential elements of a true leader are inspiration, vision, and human passion. With professional coaching, specific methodologies can be used to bring out your existing ability to inspire others. A coach can also help you to define your values, create a clear and exciting vision for the future and provide you with the tools to enhance your communication skills.

Leaders can tolerate chaos, uncertainty and change. One needs a strong character and confidence to embrace such conditions in the workplace. With some guidance and direction from a coach, you can develop your character to become more resilient and better able to lead those around you during challenging times.

Cathy Stapleton
Cathy is an Irish writer based in Berlin, Germany who is passionate about using words to inspire growth. As a certified mindfulness facilitator and performance coach, Cathy aims to create work that helps people connect with themselves and heighten their awareness. When she is not writing she is usually running in nature, meditating or contemplating an existential crisis.

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