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10 Unique Differences Between a Manager and a Leader

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Most of us usually have a notion that a manager is a good leader. But is that so? What exactly are the differences between a manager and a leader? How are effective leadership and management different? These are some questions that we are going to tackle here.

The most obvious answer would be that managers have subordinates and leaders have followers. Where managers tend to focus on outcomes, leaders focus on people with the bigger picture on the mind. But we believe that it’s a bit deeper than that.

Most people usually associate leadership qualities as something you are born with and not acquire. Of course, some are assumed to be leaders, but leaders slowly develop their leadership skills with experience and exposure more often than not. Leading people is an art that you cannot learn overnight.

Who is a Good Leader?

A leader always does not have to be in a position of authority. A leader is someone who sees opportunities for improvement and drives others to work towards that goal. Somebody becomes a leader if they are willing to think, feel and act for the people than themselves. Leaders work towards realizing their vision while prioritizing people.

Below are some of the significant qualities of a good leader.

5 Key Qualities of a Good Leader

  • They inspire and motivate others.
  • They are farsighted and sees the bigger picture.
  • They always have a positive attitude and enthusiasm.
  • They have good communication skills.
  • They are open-minded and adaptable.

Who is a Good Manager?

A manager is in charge of the planning, organization, direction, coordination, and control of an organization. They are capable of delegating and implementing a project or team strategies. They aim to achieve results by establishing guidelines, maintaining power, and responding to unexpected situations.

Managers have five primary roles: planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling. Let’s look at some of the qualities of a good manager.

5 Key Qualities of a Good Manager

  • They are disciplined about their tasks and responsibilities.
  • They are committed to achieving their goals and objectives.
  • They have quick decision-making skills for challenging situations.
  • They are competent.
  • They can focus on the strengths of each team member.

Is Every Leader a Manager and Every Manager a Leader?

The question of whether leadership and management are the same is a common one. The answer is no, not really.

Leadership is about guiding and showing people the right direction. Managing is about executing plans and administering people to achieve the goals.

Every leader can not be a manager, but every manager must be a leader. A leader focuses on the overall functioning of the organization. Being a manager requires you to handle daily operations and know every minute detail of the task.

On the other hand, managers must have few leadership skills to lead their team and achieve desired results. They must motivate their employees, have a one-on-one understanding, and drive them for better performance.

Now, I am not here to bash competent and experienced managers. Experienced managers do tend to get their job done. But there are some differences regarding how a leader and a manager are undertaking a task.

Let’s look at some unique differences between a manager and a leader

Originality Vs. Commonality

Leaders are not afraid to stand out from the crowd. They are confident in their approaches and are willing to take risks. They are comfortable in their skin and look for ideas to improve their personal brand. They are the trailblazers that people look up to for inspiration.

Managers focus on the set rules and do not deviate from their pattern. They adopt rather than defining their leadership style. They make sure they meet the benchmark for their tasks. They try to improve on the existing procedures and productivity.

The Visionary Vs. The Outcome

Leaders are often described as a visionary who tend to look at the bigger picture than short-term outcomes. They connect and inspire their followers to create something extraordinary. They improve the dynamics and interactions of their team. A well-oiled team ends up producing definite and concrete results.

On the other hand, managers tend to focus on the outcomes - both measuring and achieving them. On top of that, they tend to be more indulged in the processes, thereby decreasing autonomy.

Change Vs. Status Quo

One thing that is perennial with great leaders is that they are adaptable to changes. Great leaders have the ideology of constant innovation. Even if things are going great, leaders often look for more space to optimize.

This applies not only to the corporate industry but also to various other disciplines. The manager sticks with well-known techniques, the status quo and strives to improve their efficiency. They aren’t known to be bold risk-takers but instead focuses on refining and fine-tuning the existing systems.

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things- Peter Drucker.

The Coach Vs. The Dictator

Leaders are known for their tenacity and as a mentor. They have a direct, positive, and warm relation with all their “subordinates.” People who work for leaders often display a higher degree of efficiency and productivity in day-to-day operations. Strong leaders see their team members as competent and highly value their potential. Their leadership style is not that of micromanagement but rather the opposite. They believe that their team members can carry out a project without their intervention.

Well, a dictator might be a bit harsh, but you get the idea. Conventional managers discard motivation over getting results.

A few old school managers are known to micromanage, but micromanagement is not all that negative. Among other things, micromanagement can help a new employee come up to pace with the working standards of the industry. A new employee might prefer the guidance of a conventional and dependable manager to a flamboyant leader.

When a discussion regarding leaders and managers pops up, managers usually get the stick. But one thing’s for sure, experienced managers are known to get their job done.

People Vs. Process

Leaders are often seen putting more focus on building a lasting relationship with their clients and the stakeholders. Leaders have people with whom they connect on a personal level. Since leaders are known to have an efficient team, they often deliver promised results. This helps them maintain a lasting relationship with the stakeholders and clients.

Managers generally tend to focus more on the systems to achieve the goal. They want to optimize the structures which help them achieve a specific outcome. Of course, this is not all bad. These managerial skills come in handy when you are looking for short-term and instantaneous results. Managers have people who are efficient at a particular structure of work. A traditional industry like an investment banking sector or a law firm can benefit from these kinds of managerial insights.

Transactional Vs Transformational Leadership

This one might seem a bit harsh, but we have seen managers being transactional leaders.

What is a transactional leader, you ask?

Remember the time when your dad bought you the bike when you aced the mathematics test? Similarly, you might also remember the time when you were grounded for a week due to poor performance or lack of discipline.

That is what transactional leadership is all about. In transactional leadership, managers reward their team when they meet their expectations; subsequently, there is also some “punishment” for not meeting a particular goal.
Sounds terrible, right? Again it has its silver lining. It helps to have a transactional mentality when you need to focus on short-term goals or are in dire need of a result.

Similarly, leaders are often seen to be practicing transformational leadership. Transformational leadership
is a leadership style where people inspire and encourage people to be more productive without micromanaging. They have trained their employees well enough so that they can make independent decisions.

This is not an overnight process. This mentality is usually developed when examples at the executive levels are seen through a sense of strong company culture and independence in the workplace.

This kind of leadership is usually helpful when you have a young start-up and want to develop a strong foundation of a dedicated and involved workforce.

Development Vs. Achievement

Leaders aim for constant personal growth and development. They strive to learn something new every day and consider every challenge as a learning opportunity. They seek information and ideas from people and grab every opportunity to grow.

Managers work on their existing skills and knowledge to enhance themselves. They follow the well-trodden road to success. A leader promotes change while a manager reacts to change. Managers are in charge of bringing the vision set out by the leader to life.

Followers Vs. Subordinates

A leader has followers. A manager has employees. It's as simple as that. Leaders have people who look upto them for inspiration, new ideas, and hope. They put their trust in the leader and follow in their footsteps.

Managers have people who report to them and carry out their orders. They have people who follow their instructions and guidelines. Employees may or may not always agree with their managers. They would, however, make every effort to meet their managers' expectations.

Forethought Vs. Spontaneous

A leader is a visionary who plans for the long-term future. They set a vision and mission for the organization and delegate the responsibility to the managers. Leaders are responsible for making big decisions for the company, which require a 360-degree view of the scenario.

Managers are responsible for making daily decisions involved in the job. They must have quick decision-making skills and problem-solving skills. Since they are on the front line, managers don’t have the luxury to reflect on the solutions. With conflicts, crises, and other issues, they need to develop quick yet careful reactions.

Risk taker Vs. Risk Averse

A leader is not afraid to walk down an unknown path and be the light bearer. Leadership is a choice. It is a responsibility. It is your people who decide to put you up on a pedestal. Therefore, leaders sometimes need to take calculated risks to set an example for their followers. They are the decision makers when it comes to the future of the organization.

Managers are the ones who try to avoid any risk. They are responsible for the smooth functioning of the business and ensure that the job is done without any obstacles. They must be cognizant of risk management processes.

Effectiveness Vs. Efficiency

What is the difference between effectiveness and efficiency? As Dictionary.com defines-

Effective (adj.) – Adequate to accomplish a purpose, producing the intended or expected result.

Efficient (adj.) – Performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort.

Great leaders, as previously said, concentrate on the big picture and the result. They are seldom involved in the day-to-day operations or management of the company. They strive to strike a balance between securing long-term success and gaining a competitive advantage. They are typically the ones that inspire people to accomplish their objectives.

Managers are in charge of ensuring that the priorities and targets are met. They make sure that everyone is achieving their goals and that projects are completed as efficiently as possible.


After discussing these differences we can see that there are a lot of differences in the styles of a leader and a manager. And both of them are necessary for an organization.

More so, it depends on the type of organization. A strict and conventional industry will probably be more suited to a managerial type of leadership. Whereas a young or a dynamic industry will be much dependant on the transformational leadership of a leader.

Everything is good on paper unless you have tried it. You need to experiment with different types of models to understand which is best suited for your industry.

Thadoi Thangjam is a content marketer and digital marketing executive at Vantage Circle. When she’s not geeking out over content strategies, she is probably hunting for the next perfect track to add to her playlist. For any related queries, contact editor@vantagecircle.com

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