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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 July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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