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Can You Tell The Difference Between A Leader And A Manager?

Updated on June 13, 2013
Are they leaders or managers?
Are they leaders or managers?

What's the difference between a leader and a manager?

I have never actually thought about this until…

I was asked this question once – “What is the difference between a leader and a manager?” My answer without input from my brain was – “A leader leads and a manager manages.” And I get this ‘could this guy be any smarter?’ look from the person.

Well, now after many years in the rat race I can clearly distinguish the difference especially in corporations.

The Leader

He usually has a cause to champion, something that he strongly believes in. He inspires people to follow his cause, therefore gaining followers. The influence he has on these followers will empower them to work towards his passion.

A leader has an effective and persuasive communication skill, thus enabling him to send clear messages to people. Messages are conveyed tactfully too.

A leader takes a long term view of the corporation and he steers it to the direction he desires. He views the business in a macro manner and makes informed decisions based on a wider view.

A leader is able to multi-task effectively. He has the ability to deal with many issues at once. Here, multi-task effectively does not mean that he is replying email with his laptop while talking over the phone. It’s the ability to group similar tasks together and work them at the same time.

A leader is able to pick up trends and patterns from random data. In other words, it means he can totally surprise you.

The Manager

He is discipline and committed. He adheres strictly to the corporation’s vision, mission and policies. He is respected by people, therefore maintains control using his position.

A manager gets things done by giving more directive and concise messages. He sets targets and monitors them. People will comply out of fear not free will.

A manager has a short to medium term view of the corporation. He is usually the head of department be it Finance, Human Resource or Business Development. Hence, his views may be confined to the single department and decisions made based on a micro environment.

A manager relies on data to recognize trends and patterns. He uses management software tools to process data and then analyses the information.

The conclusion

Not all managers are leaders and some managers are destined to never become leaders.

The key here is recognizing the traits of a leader and that of a manager above to help you transition into a leader. The transition will not be easy. The change takes time and usually uncomfortable or even painful.

Leader vs Manager

Leader traits
Manager traits
Long tem view
Short term view
People oriented
Systems oriented

Listed below are some meaningful quotes on the difference between a leader and a manager.

The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.

The manager imitates; the leader originates.

The manager administers; the leader innovates.

The manager is a copy; the leader is an original. The manager maintains; the leader develops.

The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.

The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.

The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader's eye is on the horizon.

The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.

The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.

I bet you are still in the rat race!
I bet you are still in the rat race!

My personal experience with an inspiring leader

Many years back, I was working for a multi-national company. The company has a lackluster performance in my country. A new country head will be transferred here to improve the company’s performance. We were told he has an impressive track record and has turn around the business in the current country that he was in. We were so eager to meet him on the day that he was suppose to arrive. And when he finally arrives, we lined up to welcome him. In person, he was charismatic and well groomed. The first impression worked wonders. All of us began to put hope on this new leader. The next day, we were all packed into the conference room to hear him speak. He was a smooth communicator. He spoke about his plans and the new heights that he will take us to. We believed him and were so upbeat about the company’s future.

Over the months and then years, he continued with his plans and indeed steered us to greater heights. To me, his success lies with his people oriented nature. He always put his people first. He listens to his people. He trains his people. He empowers his people. He even got an international consultant firm to do a study on our remuneration portfolio. The results show that we are at the 25% quartile (which is the lowest). His action plan was to raise it to the 75% quartile. This was executed gradually over the years.

To this day, I am still inspired by his people first mentality and have put it into practice of my own.

Who is more sought-after in a corporation?

Leaders or managers?

I think a corporation needs both managers and leaders for sustainable success. Leaders are usually the ones we see in the limelight, who are highly influential in a corporation. They are also the ones who inspire the rest of the team with their passion, impeccable performance or in depth knowledge of the industry. However, they are usually not the ones who would get into the details and execution of projects. The corporation would require the skills and expertise of good managers to fill these gaps.

However, for smaller corporations without sufficient structure and headcount to support these leaders, they need to be hands-on when necessary and take on the role of a manager.

Hence, in the corporate world one with the ability to wear both the manager and leader hats interchangeably is highly sought-after. Are you one of them?

Leader vs Manager

Based on the traits outlined above, what do you think your position is in the corporate ladder?

See results

Do you think like a Leader?


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    • jasonycc profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from South East Asia

      I agree with you Carl and having said that, I think an organization needs both managers and leaders. One cannot do without the other for a sustainable business success. Thanks for your input.

    • Carl8033 profile image

      Carl Junior 

      7 years ago

      Very well put, a manager follows the rules while a leader breaks all the rules to have things his way, or rather sets his own rules.

    • jasonycc profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from South East Asia

      Thanks for reading my new hub @soconfident. I am working towards that too and I always have my leadership traits in check.

    • soconfident profile image

      Derrick Bennett 

      7 years ago

      Great hub I'm looking to be a leader.


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