9 Differences Between being a Leader and a Manager

9 Differences Between being a Leader and a Manager
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We’ve all been in leadership workshops and at some stage discussed and debated differences between leadership and management. So, let’s set the record straight what’s the difference between being a leader vs manager. Managers and leaders are not automatically one and the same, but managers have the ability to become good leaders.

I’d like to go back to the traditional view of management, when Abraham Zaleznik presented his views on the differences between managers and leaders back in 1977, he wrote, that the difference lies “in the conceptions they hold deep in their psyches, of chaos and order.” Managers embrace process, seek stability and control, and instinctively try to solve problems quickly – sometimes before they fully understand a problem’s significance.

Leaders, in contrast tolerate chaos and lack of structure and are willing to delay closure in order to understand the issues more fully. In this way, business leaders have much more in common with artists, scientists and other creative thinkers than they do with managers.

Organisations need both managers and leaders to succeed, but developing both requires a reduced focus on logic and strategic exercises in favour of an environment where creativity and imagination are permitted to flourish.

There are important distinctions between managing and leading people. Here are nine differences that set leaders apart: 

1. Leaders create a vision, managers create goals.

Leaders think beyond what individuals do day to day. They inspire and engage in capability development with the people they interact with. By painting a picture of what they see possible, leaders push the organisation and people to be functioning at their best and do a lot more than just ‘work together’. A leader’s vision encourages teams to work cohesively creating an environment that is positive and powerful. In comparison, a manager focuses on setting goals that allow them and their staff to reach outcomes. This control allows managers to hit targets efficiently and effectively.

2. Leaders are change agents; managers maintain the status quo.

Leaders are those who aren’t scared to change, they are the ones that encourage courageous conversations and debates around the concept of ‘why’, and to not be afraid to create a culture of learning and growth. Their innovation becomes their mantra. The ability to embrace change gives them the opportunity to explore different routes of moving forward, if something is already done well a leader takes a step back and asks the question- “how can this be done better?” This acceptance of creating waves in systems helps leaders to generate ideas and in turn encourages the organisation to not fear thinking outside the box. A manager on the other hand sticks to the status quo. It’s the belief that if it works then continue with the convention of what is already known.

3. Leaders are unique, managers copy.

Leaders are willing to be themselves. They are self-aware and work actively to build their unique personal brand. Being authentic builds trust, confidence and credibility. These qualities encourage and motivate the organisation to go the extra mile and achieve excellence. A manager on the other hand, often mimics the behaviours of others, particularly if they believe these styles have worked well in the past. They lead through adaptation rather than re-defining it.

4. Leaders take risks, managers control risks.

Brave leaders strive to be different. Risk taking is critical for leadership and essential for a leader’s effectiveness. Risk taking can be defined as: “Undertaking a decision in which there is a lack of certainty or a fear of failure.” The problem at the core of risk taking is fear; fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking like a fool, fear of seeming ignorant, fear of seeming too aggressive. Taking risk means confronting the fears/challenges and having the courage to move forward. It’s the failures that help leaders to build their experience and wisdom to do things differently. Managers however work in a manner that minimises risk and increases the ability to control issues or potential problems before they arise.

5. Leaders know how to inspire positively, managers think short-term

Think being positive isn’t a skill you can learn? Think again. Whether it takes the form of daily meditation, upbeat affirmations or a willingness to find humour in unpleasant situations, each of us can and should try to think positively.

In the workplace, this takes many forms. It means being ready with a smile and being willing to help others see opportunities and even greatness in their setbacks. Long-term leadership success also means knowing how to inspire others to launch themselves enthusiastically into the future while remaining grounded in the present.

Managers in contrast focus on ticking the boxes and tackling the issues that are present or have potential to rise. Managers often seek regular acknowledgment to ensure what they are doing is right and is on schedule to what is expected.

6. Leaders build relationships, managers build systems and processes.

Leaders strive on building relationships and organisational capability development. They don’t adapt to the energy of others, rather they influence the energy of others positively. They treat people as human; not as job holders, roles, or outputs. Doing so requires them to be visible, asking questions, and listening attentively. This isn’t additive work. It is work.

A manager on the other hand focuses on the structure of the organisation. It’s often the tick the box mentality that helps them connect work to relationships. They work with individuals for the main purpose of collaborating to accomplish a common goal.

7. Leaders coach, managers direct.

Another way to deepen relationships also happens to be a critical responsibility of most leaders. Developing talent. In addition to being an effective way to demonstrate care and concern for someone’s success, this is a powerful mechanism to improve performance and the ability to create value for an organisation. The better people are at applying their talents and knowledge to solve organisational problems or address opportunities, the greater the value they bring to the enterprise. When leaders create a culture of learning and continual improvement, there are fewer errors, greater flow of information, and less dependency on a few experts to do critical tasks.

Managers in contrast assign tasks and are used the sounding board for guidance and sometimes a sense of approval.

Remember it’s not always good to be the yes man!

8. Leaders create fans, managers have employees.

Leaders have people who go beyond following them; their followers become their raving fans and fervent promoters – helping them build their brand and achieve their goals. Their fans help them increase their visibility and credibility. Managers have staff who follow directions and seek to please the boss.

With these in mind and take a step back, ask yourself are you a manager or a leader?