Leader vs manager header image
May 12, 2020

To be a Leader or a Manager – Which is better for your team?

By Brian McHale

If you’re a leader, then you’re automatically a manager, right?

A lot of people sure seem to think so.

However, leadership and management are two separate disciplines.

While the best managers are also leaders, you may not have to become one immediately.

And yes, you can absolutely be a manager without being a leader.

If all of this sounds confusing to you, then you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’re going to show you the difference between leadership and management, and help you understand which one you need to become; a leader, a manager, or both.

Let’s take a look!


Leadership versus Management

Leader vs. Manager

In order to understand why so many managers and leaders dislike being confused for the other, we have to take a look at the definitions of both disciplines:

Leadership is the art of motivating people to act and achieve a common goal.

Management, on the other hand, is the science of organizing and controlling tasks, people, and processes.

If we’re looking at management, we might as well imagine it as a machine with gears and moving parts.

A manager has to make sure those gears stay in function and contribute to production.

(In fact, that’s one of the most accurate ways to look at it, since (project) management rose to prominence in the 1950s.)

As a project manager, you’re managing.

But as a leader, you’re inspiring.

So you might see how a leader, known for motivating people, might be offended to be mistaken for a manager who “simply” controls processes.

And vice versa, a manager might dislike being associated with the notion of motivational “mumbo-jumbo.”

However, these days we’re growing increasingly aware that, in order to complete projects and goals successfully, we need to do more than just control our teams.

In addition to using the best task and project management practices, we have to understand our teams and their goals, and use that knowledge to show them how completing tasks helps them grow personally and professionally.

Essential leadership skills

Source: The Balance Careers

This is why we see a lot of managers investing in their leadership skills nowadays.

Leadership versus management is turning into a different conversation, one that makes the most of both the art of leadership and the science of management to create a manager/leader.


The Advantages of Leadership and Management

When the two disciplines are joined, we see numerous benefits:

  • Improved productivity and efficiency
  • Improved communication
  • Strategic alignment with the company’s goals
  • Improved workforce, talent acquisition, and retention
  • More successful projects and activities, which lead to a higher ROI.

When the folks at Survey Monkey surveyed employees in companies with good leadership, they found that:

  • 43% of employees say that feeling appreciated makes them more confident
  • 65% of employees see opportunities for advancement as another essential component of a good job
  • 67% prefer to work for a company whose mission they believe in than one that pays them a lot.

Leadership can help with all of this.

Not to mention that it can help you wrap up your projects faster because your team members will be motivated by more than the looming deadline.


Difference Between Leadership and Management

Oversees the current process wellWants to create the future
Must achieve balanceNeeds to make change
Thinks executionThinks ideas
Comfortable with controlWelcomes risks
Problems are just that, and need resolution ASAPSees problems as opportunities, is patient
Procedure is kingSubstance trumps the king
Instructs as to technique and processYour best college professor
Impersonal, remoteHigh emotional intelligence

Source: Jobacle

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Controlling vs Motivating

A manager primarily controls.

For example, if you create a list of tasks and delegate them among your team members, as a manager you’ll control these processes to make sure they’re completed.

A leader, on the other hand, motivates.

Where a manager would usually remove obstacles, a leader would motivate so there are no obstacles in path.

Teams led by leaders are highly included in the process of creating and executing tasks.

They’re not just given a direction; they’re given a mission and a vision.

Managers often send out reports with all the tasks already assigned to appropriate team members.

Leaders, on the other hand, get everyone together and motivate them to choose tasks that are the best fit for their skills.


Counting vs Creating Value

In Harvard Business Review, Vineet Nayar proposed an interesting theory on how leader vs manager would deal with value.

A manager would count value.

They’d count the time it took someone to complete a task, and measure the results only according to benchmarks.

For managers, the focus is placed on quantity.

Leaders, on the other hand, focus on quality.

They work with their team to generate even more value, instead of simply focusing on inputs and outputs.

Leader vs. Manager

The differing approaches also change how leadership versus management approach risk-taking.

While managers avoid risks at all costs to avoid disruptions to the timeline or budget, leaders are willing to take risks if they see how a changed direction might create even more value.


Leading People vs Managing Work

Leaders give their teams direction, and help them achieve a common goal.

Team members in leadership-driven teams feel aligned with the purpose of the project, and completing tasks comes as a natural by-product of that alignment.

On the other hand, managers simply manage work.

They tell team members what to do, and how to do it.

Leadership is a two-way learning street.

Leaders leave their doors open to team members with suggestions, and encourage creative thinking.

Managers, on the other hand, often agree on a direction with their team in the beginning, and leave little leeway for other suggestions.


Present vs Future

Managers are driven by their current, short-term goals.

They don’t think about strategic alignment or future growth.

They make sure that the current tasks get done.

Leaders, on the other hand, perceive their current goals as starting points for future growth.

If they come across an obstacle, leaders rarely think of it as a problem.

Instead, they proactively think of it as an opportunity for future improvement.

Leader vs. Manager 4


Leadership Topics for Managers

If you want to add leadership skills to your management toolbox, there are a few topics you can consider immediately.

They’ll help you bring even more value to your current projects:


Listening Skills and Empathy

Encourage your team to participate in brainstorming sessions, and pay attention to their suggestions.

Understand why they’re motivated to think the way they think, and consider incorporating their suggestions into your strategy.


Team Motivation and Engagement

Consider integrating team-building exercises in your daily routine, and help your team get to know and trust one another.

This is especially important for cross-functional collaboration.


Self-Management and Self-Awareness

As a leader, you should primarily be aware of your own skills, virtues, and flaws.

Understand why you make the decisions you make, and invest in your knowledge and improvement.

Core Leadership Skills

Source: Center for Creative Leadership


Supportive Supervision

Why micromanage and supervise when you can support?

Coach your team members on their project-related goals, as well as their professional goals.

Help them improve their skills, and encourage them to trust you so they aren’t afraid to reach out for feedback or help.


Risk Management

Finally, understand how every risk and obstacle can become an opportunity.

Keep long-term goals in mind.

For example, if you’re working on a project, keep your clients’ end goals in mind, rather than only focusing on the results your project is supposed to produce.

Go the extra mile.

That’s all you need to do if you want to become a great leader.

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