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Published on March 19, 2020

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 September 28, 2020

How to Create an Action Plan and Achieve Your Personal Goals

How to Create an Action Plan and Achieve Your Personal Goals

There’s no denying that goals are necessary. After all, they give life meaning and purpose. However, goals don’t simply achieve themselves—you need to write an action plan to help you reach your goals.

With an action plan, you’ll have a clear idea of how to get where you want to go, what it will take to get there, and how you’ll find the motivation to keep driving forward. Without creating a plan, things have a way of not working out as you waver and get distracted.

With that in mind, here’s how you can set goals and action plans that will help you achieve any personal goal you’ve set.

1. Determine Your “Why”

Here’s a quick experiment for you to try right now: Reflect on the goals you’ve set before. Now, think about the goals you reached and those you didn’t. Hopefully, you’ll notice a common theme here.

The goals you were successful in achieving had a purpose. Those goals you failed to accomplish did not. In other words, you knew why you put these goals in place, which motivated you to follow through.

Simon Sinek, author of Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Finding Purpose for You and Your Team, explains:

“Once you understand your WHY, you’ll be able to clearly articulate what makes you feel fulfilled and to better understand what drives your behavior when you’re at your natural best. When you can do that, you’ll have a point of reference for everything you do going forward.”

That, in turn, enables better decision-making and clearer choices.

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I’ll share with you a recent example of this in my life. Earlier this year, I decided to make my health a bigger priority, specifically losing weight. I set this goal because it gave me more energy at work, improved my sleep, and helped me be a better father—I really didn’t care for all that wheezing every time I played with my kids.

Those factors all gave me a long-term purpose, not a superficial short-term goal like wanting to look good for an event.

Before you start creating an action plan, think about why you’re setting a new goal. Doing so will guide you forward on this journey and give you a North Star to point to when things get hard (and they inevitably will).

2. Write Down Your Goal

If you really want to know how to create an action plan for goals, it’s time to get your goals out of your head and onto a piece of paper. While you can also do this electronically through an app, research has found that you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goal if it’s written down[1].

This is especially true for business owners. If they don’t schedule their time, it’ll be scheduled for them.[2]

When you physically write down a goal, you’re accessing the left side of the brain, which is the literal, logical side. As a result, this communicates to your brain that this is something you seriously want to do.

3. Set a SMART Goal

A SMART goal pulls on a popular system in business management[3]. That’s because it ensures the goal you’ve set is both realistic and achievable. It can also be used as a reference to guide you through your action plan.

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Use SMART goals to create a goal action plan.

     

    By establishing a SMART goal, you can begin to brainstorm the steps, tasks, and tools you’ll need to make your actions effective.

    • Specific: You need to have specific ideas about what you want to accomplish. To get started, answer the “W” questions: who, what, where, when, and why.
    • Measurable: To make sure you’re meeting the goal, establish tangible metrics to measure your progress. Identify how you’ll collect the data.
    • Attainable: Think about the tools or skills needed to reach your goal. If you don’t possess them, figure out how you can attain them.
    • Relevant: Why does the goal matter to you? Does it align with other goals? These types of questions can help you determine the goal’s true objective — and whether it’s worth pursuing.
    • Time-bound: Whether it’s a daily, weekly, or monthly target, deadlines can motivate us to take action sooner than later.

    Learn more about setting a SMRT goal here: How to Set SMART Goal to Make Lasting Changes in Life

    4. Take One Step at a Time

    Have you ever taken a road trip? You most likely had to use a map to navigate from Point A to Point B. The same idea can be applied to an action plan.

    Like a map, your action plan needs to include step-by-step instructions on how you’ll reach your goal. In other words, these are mini goals that help you get where you need to go.

    For example, if you wanted to lose weight, you’d consider smaller factors like calories consumed and burned, minutes exercised, number of steps walked, and quality of sleep. Each plays a role in weight loss.

    This may seem like a lot of work upfront, but it makes your action plan seem less overwhelming and more manageable. Most importantly, it helps you determine the specific actions you need to take at each stage.

    5. Order Your Tasks by Priority

    With your action steps figured out, you’ll next want to review your list and place your tasks in the order that makes the most sense. This way, you’re kicking things off with the most important step to make the biggest impact, which will ultimately save time.

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    For example, if you have a sedentary job and want to lose weight, the first step should be becoming even a little more active. From there, you can add more time to your workout plan.

    The next step could be changing your diet, like having a salad before dinner to avoid overeating, or replacing soda with sparkling water.

    Learn these tips to prioritize better: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    6. Schedule Your Tasks

    Setting a deadline for your goal is a must; it prevents you from delaying the start of your action plan. The key, however, is to be realistic. It’s highly unlikely, for example, that you’ll lose 20 pounds within two weeks. It’s even less likely that you’ll keep it off.

    What’s more, you should also assign tasks a start and end date for each action step you’ve created, as well as a timeline for when you’ll complete specific tasks. Adding them to your schedule ensures that you stay focused on these tasks when they need to happen, not letting anything else distract you.

    For example, if you schedule gym time, you won’t plan anything else during that time frame.

    Beware the temptation to double-book yourself—some activities truly can be combined, like a run while talking to a friend, but some can’t. Don’t trick yourself into thinking you can both write and catch up on Netflix simultaneously.

    While you can use a paper calendar or planner, an online calendar may be a better option. You can use it to set deadlines or reminders for when each step needs to be taken, and it can be shared with other people who need to be in the know (like your running buddy or your mentor).

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    7. Stay on Track With Healthy Habits

    Without healthy habits, it’s going to be even more challenging to reach your goal. You could hit the gym five days a week, but if you’re grabbing burgers for lunch every day, you’re undoing all your hard work.

    Let’s say your goal is more career-oriented, like becoming a better public speaker. If you practice your speeches at Toastmasters meetings but avoid situations where you’ll need to be unrehearsed—like networking gatherings or community meetings—you’re not helping yourself.

    You have to think about what will help transform you into the person you want to be, not just what’s easiest or most comfortable.

    8. Check off Items as You Go

    You may think you’ve spent a lot of time creating lists. Not only do they help make your goals a reality, but lists also keep your action plan organized, create urgency, and help track your progress. Because lists provide structure, they reduce anxiety.

    There’s something else special about lists of tasks completed. When you cross off a task in your action plan, your brain releases dopamine[4]. This reward makes you feel good, and you’ll want to repeat this feeling.

    If you crossed out on your calendar the days you went to the gym, you’d want to keep experiencing the satisfaction of each bold “X.” That means more motivation to go the gym consistently.

    9. Review and Reset as Necessary

    Achieving any personal goal is a process. Although it would be great if you could reach a goal overnight, it takes time. Along the way, you may experience setbacks. Instead of getting frustrated and giving up, schedule frequent reviews—daily, weekly, or monthly—to see how you’re progressing.

    If you aren’t where you’d hoped to be, you may need to alter your action plan. Rework it so you’re able to reach the goal you’ve set.

    The Bottom Line

    When you want to learn how to set goals and action plans—whether you want to lose weight, learn a new skill, or make more money—you need to create a realistic plan to get you there. It will guide you in establishing realistic steps and time frames to achieve your goal. Best of all, it will keep you on track when you stumble, and we all do.

    More on Goal Action Plans

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

    Reference

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