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8 Differences Between a Leader and a Manager

8 Differences Between a Leader and a Manager

Think back to the best manager you’ve ever had.

What made this individual so impactful? Was it their strict adherence to company policies, or their ability to delegate tasks effectively?

Probably not. What made this person so memorable — and effective — likely had more to do with their emotional intelligence and long-term vision than their affinity for enforcing rules. Chances are, your favorite manager wasn’t just a “manager.” That person was also a leader.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my career is the leader vs manager distinction — not all managers are leaders, and not all leaders are managers. Enacting short-term goals and systems is one thing; inspiring people toward a larger purpose is entirely another. I’d argue that the most successful people do both.[1]

Put another way, the mark of a true leader is knowing when to lead and when to manage.[2]

As CEO of my own company, I do my fair share of managing. A personal investment in the long-term well-being of my organization motivates me to hone my leadership skills, too. It’s not always seamless to “toggle” between these two focuses, but I’m most effective when I am able to leverage the best of both. My management skills focus my leadership, and my leadership adds emotional intelligence to my management.[3]

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So, what’s the difference between leading and managing? Here are 8 of the most important distinctions when it comes to a leader vs manager so you can begin to incorporate the best of both in your own work.

1. Influence vs Power

Most of the time, managers have titles that give them power. However, if you’ve ever had a manager who focused on enforcing rules and controlling outcomes, you know there’s a big difference between having power and influencing people.[4] Not all managers have the ability to influence and motivate others, which is an important hallmark of leadership.

On the other hand, some of the most inspiring people in my company are junior-level developers who come to work every day excited to find solutions that help our customers. They don’t have “manager” in their title, but their great ideas and enthusiasm motivate the rest of us to keep the long-term vision of our company in mind — which makes them incredible leaders.

2. Having Followers vs Having Subordinates

A major part of a manager’s job is to enforce company policies and procedures. While this is an important role, it doesn’t automatically create a leader. Leadership is more about generating trust and respect and, as a result, being perceived as a person worth following.

One surefire way to determine if you’re a leader is counting the number of people who come to you for advice (outside your direct reports).

Before I started my own business, I worked for a software company. One of my colleagues consistently had co-workers interrupt him to ask questions. He wasn’t a manager, but his character and work ethic caused people to see him as a leader.

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3. Focus on Culture vs Focus on Results

Measuring results is one way to ensure growth in any company. However, true, long-term growth isn’t just about numbers. It’s about creating a culture of people aligned with your company’s core values and, in turn, who are motivated to do their best work because they care.

To be a good leader, it’s vital to move from a numbers-focus to a people-focus attitude. It can feel daunting to take your eyes off the spreadsheet in favor of sitting down with a colleague for a cup of coffee, but just watch — when you’re invested in your people, your results will improve along the way.

4. Future Focus vs Present Focus

I remember the feeling of dread I got as a kid when my parents told me to clean my (admittedly very messy) room. The only thing that motivated me to keep my room tidy was the cash payment (equivalent to just $1) at the end of the week.

As I got older, I began to think a little more strategically. I wanted to save up for a new bike, but I knew I’d need to earn a lot more than $1 per week to make it happen. So I asked my parents for more chores and, after several months of hard work doing laundry and dishes, I brought home my shiny, red bicycle.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was thinking like a leader. While managers tend to fix their focus on the present tasks at hand (getting the room cleaned to avoid getting in trouble), leaders have a vision for the future. Managers manage tasks to check them off the list, but leaders are motivated to get things done because they can see the big picture.

5. Seeing Growth Opportunities vs Seeing Failure

Since managers generally fixate on rules and results, failure tends to be more black and white for them. It can be a positive thing to keep policies in mind, but a hyper-focus on right and wrong means one “bad” move can destroy morale and zap your team’s motivation.

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Leaders, who are more visionary, can see the opportunity in perceived failures.[5] Losing a big client or getting negative feedback from a team member isn’t a move in the wrong direction but an opportunity to re-evaluate systems and come up with creative solutions.

6. Casting Visions vs Giving Instructions

Managers are good at convincing people to follow rules. Leaders, on the other hand, coach people rather than coercing them.

The best teacher I’ve ever had was an enthusiastic basketball coach. Sure, I had some amazing teachers and professors throughout my schooling, but the hands-on method of my coach just clicked with me. He didn’t just give us instructions; he had an extensive plan scribbled on his clipboard and excitedly shared it with us before every game. He didn’t just teach me how to be a technically good basketball player; he coached me to maximize my skills and grow in areas I wasn’t so strong. By the end of the season, I wasn’t just a better player — I was a better person.

7. Taking Risks vs Playing It Safe

Leaders aren’t afraid of failure because they see it as an opportunity — which means they’re also more likely to take risks on new directions and ideas. Managers are set on following existing maps to avoid taking a wrong turn, but leaders often end up blazing entirely new trails for their team to follow toward success.[6]

8. Empowerment vs Efficiency

At the end of the day, managers are all about increasing efficiency. They want to save money and time. Leaders, however, are willing to take the time to develop people.

My basketball coach didn’t have to stay an hour after practice to help me work on my free throws, but his less-than-efficient approach bred more efficiency in the long haul. I scored more points as the season progressed because he took the time to invest in me.

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The same principle holds true in any organization: When we as leaders take the time we might not think we have to develop our team members, we’ll be able to delegate bigger and more important tasks down the road.[7]

Final Thoughts

Leadership might not always seem easy or efficient, but in the end, a strategic vision (and the willingness to implement it, even when it eats up time) will breed more success and motivation.

In my book, that’s a win for everyone.

More Tips on Becoming a Leader

Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Aytekin Tank

Founder and CEO of JotForm, sharing entrepreneurship and productivity tips at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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