Leader vs. Manager: 8 Key Differences Between Both Roles

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

People occasionally mistake leaders and managers for similar roles. Although they may be comparable in some ways, they do have noticeably different characteristics. It's important that you learn more about the differences between the two roles if you're planning to work as a leader or manager. In this article, we define leaders and managers, discuss their differences and explore their skill sets.

Why is understanding the role of a leader vs. manager important?

It's important to know the differences between the leader vs. manager positions because successful organisations require both roles to function optimally. For leaders and managers to work alongside each other, it's essential for them to know each other's unique traits. While managers usually plan and coordinate the employees' activities to achieve business goals, leaders encourage and motivate employees to pursue a company's vision. Employees usually follow leaders towards a company goal, while employees work for managers by performing daily job duties.

While many managers also perform a leadership role, leaders are not necessarily managers. Managers are often leaders since they lead their teams and inspire them to achieve company objectives. They also ensure the employees follow the company vision while managing and planning their team's day-to-day roles.

Related: Common Responsibilities and Expectations of Managers

Differences between leaders and managers

Here are some of the key differences between leaders and managers:

Function and role

A leader usually influences employees' behaviours and leads them towards working and accomplishing goals in the company. A manager usually manages a team through five aspects: organising, planning, staging, directing and controlling. While leaders usually coach their team through areas they require help with, a manager often assigns tasks to their team and guides them through each one.

Related: How to Motivate (Plus Tips on Self Motivation and Leadership)

Embracing change

Leaders usually want to embrace change and find different ways to innovate and improve on processes in a company. They're willing to disrupt any current processes to create changes in a system. They also comfortably go against the norm through their daily actions and processes. Managers rarely change functional systems and just refine the system processes to improve them incrementally. Managers also usually lead their team with an existing leadership style, instead of changing or creating it.

Related: 10 Leadership Role Examples (With Functions of Leadership)

Willingness to take risk

Leaders are often willing to take risks and try new processes and systems, even if it means they may have a chance of failing. Leaders rarely let challenges impact them and consider potential setbacks as necessary steps towards success. Managers do all they can to minimise any risk in the workplace. They also look for ways to avoid any issues or control them if necessary, since risk can result in an unsuccessful project.

Long- or short-term growth

Leaders invest in growth, often learning about new systems and processes every day. They also stay current with industry trends to remain relevant in a world where trends frequently change. They look for team members and knowledge to contribute to their ever-growing skill sets. Managers often rely on their existing skills that proved successful before and perfect them for the future.

Thinking and planning

Leaders usually plan all processes and actions with intent. They work towards a broad, long-term goal, while managers work on short-term goals that result in instant rewards. Leaders typically work on their goals and seek regular approval and acknowledgement. They're task-oriented professionals who desire to complete goals and assignments constantly.

Areas of focus

Leaders predominantly focus on people in their organisations, such as stakeholders who require influencing to bring about leaders' goals or employees to lead the company to grow and flourish in the industry. Leaders note who their stakeholders are and spend time with them to build relationships, loyalty and trust. Managers typically focus on the structuring and organisation of the team to set and accomplish goals. They analyse each team member's strengths and weaknesses to ensure they implement the appropriate systems to produce the desired results.

Value creation

Leaders often want to create value, while managers measure their value through success. Leaders split up tasks and distribute them to various team members, including themselves, to establish and add value to the organisation. Managers measure value by asking for regular reports on what each team member does to measure success. While reports may help keep each team member focused on their goals, they also require a lot of time and may cause a loss of value or focus from work.

Power and influence

In an organisation, leaders often advise anyone who asks them questions and seeks their coaching, even if they may not be part of their team. Because openly offering advice helps create a strong sense of power and influence, people who don't report to them may see them as leaders. Managers often solely coach and guide individuals in their teams and only hold authority and power in their spheres of influence.

Qualities of a great leader

If you're looking to grow into an individual who can lead teams instead of just managing them, here are a few qualities you can consider developing to become an effective leader:

Accountability

Since leaders are willing to take risks, they're also prepared to take ownership of any responsibilities or setbacks they've had. A good leader can take responsibility for their team's and their own work. Leaders are also accountable for any potential setbacks to show that they're willing to grow from these oversights in the future.

Communication

Strong communication skills are essential for anyone in a leadership or managerial role. It's also crucial for leaders to communicate positively and articulately to create a clear direction for the team, meeting or project they're leading. Recently, it's also essential for leaders to have the ability to communicate across various cultures and show respect to any language barriers or communication differences.

Active listening

Successful and effective leaders are always willing to listen to their team members, whether they provide ideas for projects or feedback on their leadership styles. Good active listening refers to when a leader can listen to what their team says while understanding the underlying intention and meaning. Good leaders also know when to ask questions and follow up, ensuring they convey all their messages accurately.

Collaboration

Leaders often require collaboration internally across various departments and stakeholders. They also collaborate externally with third-party companies, contractors or vendors. Strong leaders can discover common goals and create strong, meaningful and lasting partnerships that result in successful and beneficial goals.

Related: 6 Leadership Skills for a Resume and How to Demonstrate Them

Courage

One trait that many strong leaders have is courage. Efficient leaders often have the courage to do what's in the best interest of their teams and companies constantly, even when it may be challenging. While leaders may sometimes make decisions that may be initially unpopular, they know what steps are necessary. They have the courage to take action and align processes with the overall business goals.

Empathy

Leaders have strong empathy and emotional skills and can understand how individuals around them feel about any decisions, directions or projects they're assigning them. Efficient leaders show empathy by recognising and considering their team member's feelings. They know when to be kind and when it can be better to be assertive. Strong leaders also know when to praise team members who are succeeding and encourage team members who need help if they're struggling.

Willingness to learn

Even when in a leadership position, leaders are still eager to learn about any new topics and trends that they might be unclear about. Because they're willing to learn about emerging trends and topics in projects they're leading, their team members acknowledge this trait and see them as inspirational and efficient. Being prepared to learn new skills also helps leaders refine their skill sets to contribute to their overall business vision. Leaders who are open to learning also help inspire their team members to keep learning like them.

Passion and optimism

Optimistic leaders often show that they believe in their organisations' decisions and are willing to put in the passion and effort to work towards their visions and missions. Strong leaders also recognise changes in their employees and are often optimistic about any changes or challenges during stressful situations. In addition, strong leaders are passionate and can motivate a team to work towards and achieve a common goal.

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