11 Differences Between Managers and Leaders

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Bailey Maybray
Bailey Maybray


The success of an entrepreneur depends on both their management skills and leadership style. Yet the terms “manager” and “leader” get thrown around interchangeably. But understanding the difference between a manager and leader can help you identify your leadership style and improve aspects of it.

Differences between managers and leaders: a woman climbs a ladder to speak to a crowd.

However, one important connection between management and leadership is their effects on the workplace. Almost eight in 10 employees will quit if they receive insufficient appreciation from their managers, while 69% of millennials worry about their workplace’s inadequate leadership development.

Improving your management and leadership skills starts with the basics. That means knowing when to manage and knowing when to lead.

Table of contents:

What’s the difference between a manager and a leader?

What's the difference between a manager and a leader? They differ between their tolerance for change, goals, risk factor, scope of work, relationship with employees, communication, collaboration, change management, purpose, and culture.

Managers and leaders take different approaches to their work. Managers focus on achieving short-term goals, delegating tasks, and running operations, whereas leaders prioritize long-term objectives, inspire others, and innovate the organization.

Consider the difference between a CEO and a manager of a small marketing team. The CEO focuses on bigger-picture items, such as setting the tone for the organization, building culture, and other strategic tasks.

The manager, on the other hand, takes a more focused approach, helping their team reach specific objectives and tracking individual performance.

While distinct differences do exist, entrepreneurs can benefit from leveraging aspects of both managers and leaders. You can incorporate management traits, such as ensuring standard efficiency or meeting daily goals. You can also develop leadership qualities, such as creating an aspirational vision for the organization and inspiring employees.

1. Tolerance for change

Managers resist change, referring to tried and tested methods, aiming for stability, and maintaining the status quo. They may, for example, track performance using proven and commonly used key performance indicators (KPIs) or challenge the need to change long-established processes.

Leaders view change as a catalyst for growth. They use it to push the organization forward, drive innovation, and expand. Leaders may question traditional methods of running operations, ask for ideas from other employees, and create an open and supportive environment for taking risks.

2. Goals

Managers focus on short-term goals as opposed to long ones. They require their teams to meet goals often on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis. They prioritize actionable objectives attached to measurable goals.

Leaders take a more high-level, long-term view of their goals. They think big, asking how they can push their organization to the next level when it comes to their mission or products. Rather than looking at actionable tasks, they take a step back and create aspirational goals.

3. Risk factor

Managers decrease risk within their teams and build stability. They aim to minimize disruptions to their regular operations, which often comes from taking big swings and missing. So, while taking risk may pay off in the long run, managers want to ensure their performance and efficiency remains predictable by erring on the side of caution.

Leaders view risk as a necessary aspect of innovation. Rather than taking any random risk, leaders drive calculated risks to help progress the organization forward. This may help the organization achieve different strategic objectives, such as creating a more competitive product or discovering new ways of operating.

4. Scope of work

Because of their more niche role, managers prioritize reaching KPIs and ensuring the efficiency of their teams. They focus on delegating tasks, creating assignments, and setting deadlines.

Leaders tackle more aspirational work, such as motivating employees, building the organization’s culture, and ensuring employees grow professionally.

5. Relationship with employees

Managers often maintain transactional relationships with their employees. They may divvy out tasks, conduct performance reviews, and check in on assignment completion. Though many take on mentoring roles, managers tend to build formal relationships with their employees.

Leaders spend time and effort creating learning and development opportunities for their employees. They build personal relationships with them, cultivate trust, and create a positive work environment. And unlike managers, they take on the role of a mentor or coach to help their employees develop as professionals.

6. Communication

Managers often communicate from the top down. They may inform their team about new directions and information from company leadership. Similar to their relationship with employees, managers take on a formal communication style.

For their part, leaders encourage open communication and seek input from employees. They actively listen, ask for ideas, and strive to create a comfortable environment.

7. Emotional intelligence

When it comes to employees, managers look for technical abilities. They want to hire an employee who can help their team achieve higher metrics and improve efficiency, regardless of their communication skills.

On the other hand, leaders seek emotional intelligence when hiring candidates. They want to build a team that can collaborate and communicate effectively. They understand the importance of hard skills, but also want to ensure their employees have a strong sense of emotional intelligence — a key trait entrepreneurs need to succeed, according to a survey of 65k+ business leaders.

8. Collaboration

Managers prioritize the progress of their teams. They tend to focus on how their employees can drive their team’s goals forward.

Leaders recognize the cross-collaboration involved in an organization. They strive to bring together different parts of the company to achieve larger objectives. They may encourage meetings across departments, ensuring the organization as a whole builds collaborative relationships.

9. Change management

When unexpected change comes, managers take a reactive approach. They work to identify the change, how to resolve it, and ways to reduce the chance of it happening again.

Because leaders already prioritize change, any unexpected events matter little to them. They can handle the situation proactively, as their organization’s culture welcomes change as necessary to innovate and grow.

10. Purpose

Managers view their work’s purpose as achieving short-term goals and pushing their team to maximum efficiency. They may not consider how their work impacts the organization, or whether their team makes waves within the industry.

Leaders want to leave a lasting impact on the organization. Not only that, but they want to make waves within their industry and community. They maintain a greater sense of purpose within their job compared to managers, understanding their role as representative of the company’s reputation, culture, and influence.

11. Culture

Managers listen for instructions from above when it comes to culture. They uphold culture based on guidelines established by higher-ups, ensuring policies get followed and adhering to rules.

Leaders cultivate the organization’s culture. They take on an influential and inspirational role within the company, setting the example for how others should act. They create incentives and rewards for those whose behavior helps shape the culture.

Difference between a manager and a leader examples

Difference between a manager and a leader examples.

The difference between a manager and a leader often comes from how they handle unexpected hurdles. Consider a project facing a major blunder. A manager may identify the source of the error, place blame, and work to ensure the project returns to its original state.

A leader, however, views the blunder as a growth opportunity. They ask for feedback from the team, avoid blaming anyone, and work to identify the cause of the blunder. Rather than return to normal operations, they take what they learned to improve the project’s progress.

The difference also appears when it comes to employee development. Say an employee completes a task, but recognizes they struggled and made several mistakes. A manager provides feedback on this specific assignment to improve their performance, but leaves it at that.

A leader may provide this feedback, but ensure the employee gets proper training and development. They inquire about their struggle, where they feel they need additional support, and provide them with resources to better develop their skill set.

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Topics: Leadership

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