The differences between a leader and a manager

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Management versus leadership. They’re not the same, but which is best for an organization? Where does one end and the other begin? 
We should start by saying that there are some similarities between leaders and managers. Both are responsible for guiding and supporting the actions of employees.
Both roles also require some of the same skills — including communication, organisation and decision making.
But it’s a mistake to group these two roles together, and one people make time and time again. There are a number of key differences between a manager and a leader, all of which we’ll explore in the article below.
Let’s start by taking a look at the characteristics of a manager and a leader — and the roles they fulfil within an organization.
Contents

  • What is a leader?
  • What is a manager?
  • What is the difference between a manager and a leader?
    • Motivation vs inspiration
    • Maintenance vs innovation
    • Short term vs long term
    • Knowledge application vs knowledge acquisition
  • Can a manager be a leader (and vice versa)?

What is a leader?

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If you’ve encountered a great leader during your career, you’ll most certainly remember them.
A leader is someone with vision and initiative. They have the ability to influence and inspire employees to pursue that vision along with them.
Good leaders are skilled communicators who empathize with their teams. In this way, they can mentor and support employees to achieve both individual and organizational goals.
Ultimately, a leader is responsible for leading both employees and the company as a whole — analyzing, strategizing and deciding on overarching objectives.

What is a manager?

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Unlike a leader, a manager isn’t overly concerned with the overall company direction.
Whilst they need to have an understanding of company goals, they aren’t responsible for determining those goals or creating a company-wide vision.
Instead, they take care of practical, day to day operations — planning, organizing and controlling teams and their output to be as efficient as possible.

What is the difference between a manager and a leader?

Whilst both roles are really important to the success of an organization, there are a few key differences between managers and leaders.

Motivation vs inspiration

A manager knows how to motivate a team.
They know how recognition and rewards can be used to get the most from their employees.
They also know that training and development are essential if they’re to maintain the right mix of skills and a good level of engagement within a team.
A leader knows how to inspire a team.
When we look at a leader vs a manager, we see that leaders are much more skilled at communicating the company’s vision and values — and getting their teams right behind those concepts.
They also know that 1-on-1 mentorship is great for developing team skills and furthering the success of the company.

Maintenance vs innovation

Managers help to maintain the status quo.
They are consistent in their work and in their employee expectations. And they look to hone systems that support day to day operations.
This helps the team to function as it should, with everyone taking responsibility for their own part of the process.
Leaders seek out change.
They question the systems and processes currently in place and look for ways to do things better. A leader is never afraid to implement new ideas.

Short term vs long term

Managers focus on the short term — immediate goals and how they and their team can meet them. When faced with a challenge they ask themselves how and when their team will overcome it.
Leaders look much further ahead. They look at risks and opportunities in the long term, finding ways to push the company forward.
Leaders are more concerned with the what and the why. They’re more likely to ask questions and come up with new and exciting ideas.  

Knowledge application vs knowledge acquisition

Managers are great at applying their knowledge and skills. They don’t generally look to break the mold and, instead, follow the example of good managers they’ve experienced over the years.
Leaders strive to acquire new knowledge and skills. They want to build on their ability as leader and create their own unique leadership style.
As a result, they are continuous learners — keen to develop themselves so they can better develop the company and its employees.

Leader vs manager: can a manager be a leader (and vice versa)?

A leader may once have been a manager. And a manager may aspire to a leadership role. 
But, whilst there is some overlap between management and leadership, the two roles require very different skills and characteristics.
To foster a culture where both managers and leaders perform to the best of their ability, training and development is really important.
Good managers and leaders don’t sit on their laurels. Instead, they work to improve their skills to better manage and lead their teams.
Here at My Learning Hub, we offer a wide selection of courses on Management and Leadership.
With our learning management system, you’ll find it easy to deliver engaging training opportunities and measure the business impact of your L&D initiatives too.

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