Leaders versus Managers: Spot the Difference


As those in the business of developing managers and leaders, we talk to a lot of people who are in the throes of mastering many of the skills associated with being a manager and a leader.

While many of the skills required cross over between the two, it is also imperative to take a step back and think on this important question: What makes a manager, a manager, and what makes a leader a leader?

While some people will definitely be both, there are some telling differences between managers and leaders that can set them apart in the eyes of those they report to and in the eyes of their teams.


By definition, managers have subordinates who report directly to them. Most managers will have a title that denotes a sense of automatic authority, normally of a more formal variety. In response to this formal arrangement of management, most managers will have people who work for them in response to a direct chain of command set by their workplace.

Normally, this type of management style results in working relationships that are largely transactional, in that the manager tells the subordinate what to do and the subordinate does the task, namely for an incentive (most likely a salary, as in common with most transactional forms of management).

Although normally based on this transactional style, good managers need to have a particular set of skills to be successful in their role.

  • They need to have strong organisational skills to balance their own workload alongside the tasks that can be best delegated to their team to improve operation efficiency.
  • They need to possess excellent communication skills to be able to successfully manage different personality types within their team and be able to combat issues as they arise.
  • They need to be process focused to ensure the time management for themselves and those around them is at optimum requirements to ensure peak productivity from everyone under their management.

Mastering these skills is imperative to the success of any manager.   However, the skills that make a manager a good manager do not necessarily all fit under the same skills that make a good leader.


Leaders do not have subordinates, they have followers. And while many leaders will still have a ‘management’ title, the sense of authoritarian control is replaced by a different form management style that encourages results and performance at a whole different level.

When leaders want to lead they employ a different set of skills to accomplish their goals. They give up their authoritarian style of management and instead turn to a more transformational style of management based on relationships and connections.

They will appeal to those around them based on personal integrity and determination, not authority or power. Leaders will be able to rally those around them to a cause based on their own personal appeal and demonstration of honesty. Leaders with a lot of charisma find it easier to attract people to their cause. As part of their persuasion they offer more transformational incentives rather than transactional such as personal development.

They will be people focused and able to relate to those around them on a variety of levels. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be loud and gregarious to be everyone’s friend, rather they are able to employ skills such as asking questions and listening to make those around them feel heard.

They want to try new things and aim to get others involved in these developments. Leaders do not silo themselves away and work alone. Nor do they always play it safe to avoid confrontation or potential failure. Instead, they include others in their brainstorming and search for new approaches. They are problem solvers who appreciate the perspectives their team members can offer to assist with informed risk taking.


While this is in no way an exhaustive list of manager or leader attributes, it should give a clearer idea of what separates a manager from a leader with excellent managerial skills.

Instead of counting value according to a transactional style of management, leaders focus on what value they can assist to add to their team by setting good examples and acknowledging independent thought and good work ethic.

Instead of focusing on controlling the day-to-day actions of their teams, leaders focus on developing circles of influence based on their natural leadership qualities. If people outside your direct line of reporting are coming to you for advice or direction, you are demonstrating that you are a leader, not only a manager.

Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, not power and control. Like most things worth working for, becoming a leader can be a longer and more complicated road than clocking in and completing a set managerial task. However, the rewards of a more responsive and self-driven team, stronger internal relationships and a less authoritarian driven work environment is definitely worth the extra effort and skill honing.

Are you both a manager and a leader? What would your team say about you if you asked them to rate your leadership style?

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