leader vs manager
Are you a manager or leader?

Leaders vs. Managers

If you coach, train or develop people, there’s a good chance folks see you as a leader. This is particularly true for entrepreneurs who own and operate their own business.

Much has been written about what constitutes being a leader. A frequent Socratic question asked of first year MBA students is: Are managers and leaders the same?

The answer is that question (at least to me) is no.

To be blunt, just because you supervise people doesn’t make you a leader. That’s not to say managers can’t be leaders. They absolutely can. I’m simply suggesting that a title alone doesn’t bestow leadership qualities.

So, how do managers and leaders differ? Here are a few things to consider, adapted from the work of Hughes, Ginnet, & Curphy, 2008:

Managers vs. Leaders

How managers and leaders differ

Managers Leaders
Administer Innovate
Maintain Develop
Control Inspire
Short term views Long term views
Ask how and when Ask what and why
Imitate Originate
Accept status quo Challenge norm

1. Managers Administer whereas Leaders Innovate

By definition, management is the art of getting work accomplished through other people.

Leaders, however, do the same but help followers by making the tasks they do simpler through innovation. The guiding question for many effective leaders is: How can we do this better?

2. Managers Maintain whereas Leaders Develop

Folks who supervise typically are concerned with keeping departmental homeostasis. Do your job and don’t cause problems and the world will be fine.

Leaders, however, become actively involved with their people and do so in a way that helps them grow. They realize that encouraging personal development benefits the organization as a whole.

3. Managers Control whereas Leaders Inspire

“Have that report completed by COB tomorrow.” This is a typical request of a manager. In other words, supervisors often get things done because they hold inherent authority.

But that doesn’t mean the employee wants to do the work. In many cases, they do it because they have to.

Leaders, on the other hand, motivate action through inspiration. Followers naturally accomplish tasks (even mundane ones) because they’ve bought into a tangible vision of the future.

That vision is set by the leader.

President Kennedy is a good example of an inspirational leader who also was transformational. People followed him because they liked and trusted him.

4. Managers Have Short Term Goals whereas Leaders Long Term

Many managers have short term goals that are often linked to economic gain. In fact, that’s what management by objective (MBO’s)are all about.

Leaders, however, look at the long view (multi-year) with an eye on organizational growth. They typically ask the question: Where do I want this company to be in five years? Ten years?

5. Managers Ask How and When whereas Leaders Ask What and Why

People who manage others are deadline driven. For them, knowing how something needs to be done and when it needs to be completed is critical.

For leaders, particularly visionary types, the questions are much more esoteric. In short, leaders want to know what the organization is involved with and why it is necessary.

6. Managers Imitate whereas Leaders Originate

A trait that is fairly straight forward. Managers often try to emulate someone they admire, hoping to vibe out their traits and characteristics.

Leaders, however, are secure in who they are and naturally broadcast their personality, which is usually warm, intuitive and charismatic.

7. Managers Accept the Status Quo whereas Leaders Challenge it

Folks who supervise others typically live by the mantra, “That’s the way we’ve always done it around here.”

Leaders, which are typically agents of change, often challenge the status quo mentality. Deep inside, they know that for an organization to grow, change is critical.

Wrap Up

After reviewing the 7 differences between managers and leaders listed above, which traits most closely describe you?

If the answer is leader and you want to grow your skills, I encourage you to learn all you can about this topic.

A great book to consider on this front is: The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership.

Thanks for stopping by!


Hughes, R., Ginnet, R., & Curphy, G. (2008). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons of experience. Chicago: McGraw Hill.


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