What is the difference between a manager and a leader?

April 24, 2017 Franco Gementi

Are the terms manager and leader not the same? Logically, if my boss directs the office they are the manager but also, the leader. In fact, in an ideal situation, managers are leaders. But this is not always the case. So what’s difference between a manager and a true leader?


1) Managers manage the present, the leaders look to the future

Managers are focused on completing the work there is to do now, but leaders look at the big picture and ask the right questions. How will this activity help us meet out quarterly targets? How does this fit with the general plans of the company? Is this helping people with their career goals? These are the questions that a real leader considers constantly.


2) Managers monitor people or activities, leaders make a real contribution


There are managers who manage people and managers who manage projects, and each has specific responsibilities. Sometimes the leader is not always being shouted about, but it is the person to whom everyone turns to for guidance and advice. They are the ones that actively and effectively participate in the resolution of problems and the achievement of objectives. This is the kind of person to watch and promote to managerial roles.


3) Managers tell people what to do, leaders guide people to success


If you are a checklist manager, then you’re probably not a leader. If you tell people to follow a checklist and tick items off that list then you are not leading. A leader inspires and helps others to succeed and this sometimes involves intervening, while other times it means to simply to let things evolve on their own. This is a leader’s call to make.


4) Managers will issue directives for each activity, the leaders are willing to relinquish control


Leaders praise deserving colleagues and realise when a person is ready for greater responsibilities and a possible promotion. Managers may be tempted to keep activities and projects under control. Leaders understand when someone is ready to flourish and they celebrate this.


5) Managers care about numbers, leaders care about people


The numbers are important and anyone who says otherwise is being unrealistic. But they are not the only thing that matters. It is likely that the manager will complain about an employee that is unable to keep up, while a leader will ask them if they have any problems and will try to offer a solution. Obviously, both leaders and managers will have to fire a person that is not suited for a role, but leaders will try to solve the problem first. Ignoring problems will not make them go away and this attitude will push the best people to leave. Managers are focused on achieving the objectives, but leaders see the team as a solid and will ensure that there are no hidden problems under the surface.


If you oversee a project or a group of people, stop and think about how you behave. Are you acting as a manager or as a leader? 


About the Author

Franco Gementi

Franco has deep experience in the Human Resources field, in particular on administrative management processes (in-sourcing and outsourcing) and human resources development, with particular attention to the evaluation of the employee's potential and career development and various aspects related to rewarding policies and training and development. Along the entire evolutionary path, from home made solutions to the current cloud in Human Resources.

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