What made this individual so impactful? Was it their strict adherence to company policies, or their ability to delegate tasks effectively?
Probably not. What made this person so memorable — and effective — likely had more to do with their emotional intelligence and long-term vision than their affinity for enforcing rules. Chances are, your favorite manager wasn’t just a “manager.” That person was also a leader.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my career is the leader vs manager distinction — not all managers are leaders, and not all leaders are managers. Enacting short-term goals and systems is one thing; inspiring people toward a larger purpose is entirely another. I’d argue that the most successful people do both.((Inc.: What is the Difference Between Managers and Leaders?))
Put another way, the mark of a true leader is knowing when to lead and when to manage.((Forbes: The Difference Between Leaders and Managers))
As CEO of my own company, I do my fair share of managing. A personal investment in the long-term well-being of my organization motivates me to hone my leadership skills, too. It’s not always seamless to “toggle” between these two focuses, but I’m most effective when I am able to leverage the best of both. My management skills focus my leadership, and my leadership adds emotional intelligence to my management.((Forbes: From Manager To Leader: 6 Most Important Skills For The Future))
So, what’s the difference between leading and managing? Here are 8 of the most important distinctions when it comes to a leader vs manager so you can begin to incorporate the best of both in your own work.
1. Influence vs Power
Most of the time, managers have titles that give them power. However, if you’ve ever had a manager who focused on enforcing rules and controlling outcomes, you know there’s a big difference between having power and influencing people.((Harvard Business Review: Three Differences Between Managers and Leaders)) Not all managers have the ability to influence and motivate others, which is an important hallmark of leadership.
On the other hand, some of the most inspiring people in my company are junior-level developers who come to work every day excited to find solutions that help our customers. They don’t have “manager” in their title, but their great ideas and enthusiasm motivate the rest of us to keep the long-term vision of our company in mind — which makes them incredible leaders.
2. Having Followers vs Having Subordinates
A major part of a manager’s job is to enforce company policies and procedures. While this is an important role, it doesn’t automatically create a leader. Leadership is more about generating trust and respect and, as a result, being perceived as a person worth following.
One surefire way to determine if you’re a leader is counting the number of people who come to you for advice (outside your direct reports).
Before I started my own business, I worked for a software company. One of my colleagues consistently had co-workers interrupt him to ask questions. He wasn’t a manager, but his character and work ethic caused people to see him as a leader.
3. Focus on Culture vs Focus on Results
Measuring results is one way to ensure growth in any company. However, true, long-term growth isn’t just about numbers. It’s about creating a culture of people aligned with your company’s core values and, in turn, who are motivated to do their best work because they care.
To be a good leader, it’s vital to move from a numbers-focus to a people-focus attitude. It can feel daunting to take your eyes off the spreadsheet in favor of sitting down with a colleague for a cup of coffee, but just watch — when you’re invested in your people, your results will improve along the way.
4. Future Focus vs Present Focus
I remember the feeling of dread I got as a kid when my parents told me to clean my (admittedly very messy) room. The only thing that motivated me to keep my room tidy was the cash payment (equivalent to just $1) at the end of the week.
As I got older, I began to think a little more strategically. I wanted to save up for a new bike, but I knew I’d need to earn a lot more than $1 per week to make it happen. So I asked my parents for more chores and, after several months of hard work doing laundry and dishes, I brought home my shiny, red bicycle.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was thinking like a leader. While managers tend to fix their focus on the present tasks at hand (getting the room cleaned to avoid getting in trouble), leaders have a vision for the future. Managers manage tasks to check them off the list, but leaders are motivated to get things done because they can see the big picture.
5. Seeing Growth Opportunities vs Seeing Failure
Since managers generally fixate on rules and results, failure tends to be more black and white for them. It can be a positive thing to keep policies in mind, but a hyper-focus on right and wrong means one “bad” move can destroy morale and zap your team’s motivation.
Leaders, who are more visionary, can see the opportunity in perceived failures.((Forbes: 7 Differences Between Being A Leader And A Manager)) Losing a big client or getting negative feedback from a team member isn’t a move in the wrong direction but an opportunity to re-evaluate systems and come up with creative solutions.
6. Casting Visions vs Giving Instructions
Managers are good at convincing people to follow rules. Leaders, on the other hand, coach people rather than coercing them.
The best teacher I’ve ever had was an enthusiastic basketball coach. Sure, I had some amazing teachers and professors throughout my schooling, but the hands-on method of my coach just clicked with me. He didn’t just give us instructions; he had an extensive plan scribbled on his clipboard and excitedly shared it with us before every game. He didn’t just teach me how to be a technically good basketball player; he coached me to maximize my skills and grow in areas I wasn’t so strong. By the end of the season, I wasn’t just a better player — I was a better person.
7. Taking Risks vs Playing It Safe
Leaders aren’t afraid of failure because they see it as an opportunity — which means they’re also more likely to take risks on new directions and ideas. Managers are set on following existing maps to avoid taking a wrong turn, but leaders often end up blazing entirely new trails for their team to follow toward success.((Business Insider: 17 of the biggest differences between managers and leaders))
8. Empowerment vs Efficiency
At the end of the day, managers are all about increasing efficiency. They want to save money and time. Leaders, however, are willing to take the time to develop people.
My basketball coach didn’t have to stay an hour after practice to help me work on my free throws, but his less-than-efficient approach bred more efficiency in the long haul. I scored more points as the season progressed because he took the time to invest in me.
The same principle holds true in any organization: When we as leaders take the time we might not think we have to develop our team members, we’ll be able to delegate bigger and more important tasks down the road.((Harvard Business Review: Do Managers and Leaders Really Do Different Things?))
Leadership might not always seem easy or efficient, but in the end, a strategic vision (and the willingness to implement it, even when it eats up time) will breed more success and motivation.
In my book, that’s a win for everyone.