The words “leader” and “manager” are often used interchangeably in the corporate world. But not all managers are leaders in the real sense of the term. And not all leaders are officially designated as managers. Before labeling anyone as manager and leader, have you ever wondered what these terms mean?

Let’s talk about the difference between leadership and management. The aim is for you to have a clear understanding of the roles and qualities of leaders and managers by the end of this post.

Managers vs. Leaders

What does a manager do?

In any organization, a manager has the power and responsibility of carrying out the important functions—planning, organizing and controlling. But can all managers become leaders?

For managers to become good leaders, they need to display certain qualities. They need to be clear communicators, adept motivators and wise guides, all to encourage employees to improve their productivity.

Unfortunately, not all managers can be leaders. Some managers have poor or no leadership qualities.

Think about it: Do your employees follow your orders because they are influenced or inspired by you? The answer to that highlights the key difference between a boss and a leader.

What qualities does a good manager possess?

Let’s understand the differences between leadership and management by first getting a handle on the qualities of a good manager. They are:

  1.  The ability to execute a vision

Managers develop a strategic vision for the team and the organization. This vision serves as a roadmap for employees as they go about their tasks.

  1. The ability to direct

Managers ensure that daily activities are carried out smoothly. They iron out the frictions and challenges that employees often face. They improvise and make changes after reviewing resources and anticipating the team’s needs.

  1. Process management

Managers have the authority to establish and implement rules, standards and operating procedures.

  1. A people-focused approach

Managers cater to the needs of their team. A good manager listens to their team and involves them in the process of arriving at key decisions. Moreover, the manager also accommodates reasonable requests from the team to improve productivity.

What does a leader do?

People tend to think that all leaders occupy a formal position of seniority within the organization.  But that’s not necessarily true. The crucial difference between leadership and management is that leaders don’t have to be an authority figure in the organization.

A leader can be anyone.

Unlike managers, leaders have followers. You find yourself naturally and instinctively following a person because their behavior, personality, and beliefs influence you.

A leader leads by example. They get their hands dirty and often take the initiative on tasks and projects. The passion and enthusiasm they bring to their work is infectious.

Here’s another point in the leaders vs managers discussion—leaders show people what to do while managers tell people what to do.

What traits does a strong leader possess?

To understand the difference between leadership and management further, let’s take a look at the traits of an influential leader. They are:

  1. Vision

A leader has a clear vision of where they stand and where they want to go. A good leader involves the team in charting the path to the future.

  1. Honesty and integrity

Leaders win the trust of their followers by being true to themselves and the tasks they put their minds to. Their authenticity inspires people to walk side-by-side with them.

  1. Inspiration

Leaders inspire and show the team the bigger picture. They help people understand how their contributions are adding value to the wider organization.

  1. The ability to think outside the box

Leaders are known for challenging the status quo. They are not content with doing things the way they have always been done. They like to think outside-the-box and develop a unique style of problem-solving.

Differences between leadership and management

By now, you have an idea of the different traits of leaders and managers. Let’s look at the differences between leadership and management:

  • A leader encourages people to do their best. The job of the manager is to manage the organizational activities and ensure that the assigned tasks are completed on time.
  • For a person to be a good leader, they have to win the trust of their followers. Managers are vested with authority over their subordinates.
  • This is the key factor that highlights the leaders vs managers traits: leaders have followers while managers have subordinates.
  • Leaders have the skill of influencing people. Think about how leaders like Gandhi and Vivekananda influenced people in their own time. Iconic modern-day business leaders like Ratan Tata and Narayana Murthy have inspired countless professionals by their words and actions.
  • The respect for managers, on the other hand, is less organic. It is imposed by an organization’s formal hierarchical structure.
  • Leadership requires foresightedness but management is usually working towards a short-term vision.
  • Leaders tend to establish principles and guidelines. On the other hand, the job of managers is to implement policies and procedures.
  • Leadership is proactive, while management is reactive.
  • Leadership brings change. Management, however, brings stability.

Now that you have a clear idea of the difference between boss and leader, you must be thinking society should have more leaders than managers.  Yes? No? Well, you shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

Let’s reiterate the last point from our list of differences between leadership and management.

“Leadership brings change. Management, however, brings stability.”

For a business to be successful, it needs both—change and stability. So does that mean that the leader and manager should go hand in hand? Yes. Let’s understand this through an example.

The difference between a boss and leader with an example

To understand the difference between boss and leader, can you think of how many times children are disciplined? Children are constantly being told about do’s and don’ts, whether it is in the sphere of academics, health, or how to behave. Sometimes, they are obedient and do what is asked. Other times, they take great pleasure in defying rule-imposing adults.

Why is that? That’s because growing children are constantly trying to stress their individuality. They are trying to establish an identity for themselves.  Sometimes, when they are asked to complete their homework and go out to play, they follow the instruction.

But when it comes to inducing habits like eating more greens or playing outdoor games instead of watching TV, they can flat out ignore the advice. Often, they instinctively shut out such advice because they don’t see adults practice what they are preaching.

Children are constantly watching adults. They may tune out sometimes, but they never stop observing. That is when adults have to take off their managerial hat and step into their leadership shoes. They have to lead by example.

You are being watched by your followers

It is a natural human tendency to watch and imitate. We are always trying to match and mirror the leader or influencer we follow.

Need an example? Cricketers Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli are household names. Both are known for their batting skills as well as their leadership skills. Can you think of the moments when they have shown exemplary leadership and management skills on the field?

How to balance the leader and manager roles?

Now is the time to put aside the managers versus leaders battle in your mind. The key to changing your team’s behavior is to change your own.

Your team is compelled to follow your lead, not your words. And that happens when you demonstrate through your actions.

Here’s how you can balance your managerial and leadership sides. Lead from the front, and understand when to step aside and deploy your managerial skills when something needs to get done in a limited timeframe. Keep it simple, delegate, and guide your team members without worrying too much about whether they are being influenced or inspired by you.

Being managerial is appropriate when tasks are specific and clearly defined. But if you want to influence overall behavior or inculcate a habit, then you need to deploy your leadership skills.

Leader and manager traits must go hand in hand

By now, you must have internalized the essence of leaders vs managers. This difference between leadership and management might compel you to ditch your managerial hat and keep your leadership shoes on at all times.

But remember, for a business to be successful, you need both management and leadership, depending on the circumstance. Deploying one when the other would be more appropriate is likely to create more problems than it solves.

But how do you carry out managerial tasks as well as lead from the front when the situation demands it? By following the GRIN Framework. The GRIN Framework lays down the four key characteristics an effective team possesses. It is these traits that you must instill in your own teams. You can learn about this framework in Harappa’s Managing Teamwork course. Join the online course today!


Explore our Harappa Diaries section to know more about the topic related to the Collaborate habit such as Building Relationships, Conflict Management, Meaning of Rapport, Strategic Management & What is Teamwork in order to develop your collaboration skills.

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