What are the significant differences between a leader and a manager?

What are the significant differences between a leader and a manager?

Often the words “Leader” and “Manager” are used synonymously but there is a difference between the two. The primary difference between management and leadership is that managers hold recognized positions of authority in the organizational structure whereas leaders may not. A leader can be anyone in the organization, but they frequently hold managerial positions. As you may have encountered, not all managers may qualify as good leaders. When this happens, people tend to follow orders not because they are motivated but because they are obliged.

Managers hold positions in the organization that give them line authority to compel employees to follow their directives. Their main goal is usually strictly aligned with meeting organizational goals and objectives. Managers are accountable for their own activities as well as the activities of those who report to them. Inherent to their role, they are given the ability to judge employee performance and promote, reward, correct, hire and fire employees accordingly.

People follow leaders not because they are compelled by formal authority from the organization, but because they feel moved to do so. People choose to follow leaders due to the leaders’ personality, principles, and behaviours. Leaders are passionate about their work and as a result they dive into their work with full force. They care about others especially those who follow them. They want others to feel the passion they do, so they invest their time into helping others to be successful and satisfied in their work.

One way to distinguish between a manager and a leader is by the traits they possess. Below are the important traits of both managers and leaders.


Traits a manager possesses:

  • Accomplish a vision: Using a roadmap for their team to follow, a manager successfully implements a strategic vision.

  • A talent for directing: Anticipating needs and course correcting where needed on a day to day basis is critical to a managers’ success.

  • Ability to manage processes: With their role, managers have the authority to implement rules, standards, procedures and processes.

  • People Centric: In order to build the trust, loyalty, and productivity of employees, managers stay up to date on their employees’ needs and check if they are being met. To do this, managers practice active listening, engage employees in critical decisions, and make every effort to meet any sensible requests for changes.



Traits a leader possesses:

  • Ability to see the big picture: Leaders see the forest for the trees. They know where they are going and how to get there from where they currently are. They engage others to help them identify the course of action to take, to get to their desired state.

  • Trustworthiness and reliability: People follow leaders because they are honest and have integrity. Believing in their leader motivates them to journey down the path the leader lays out.

  • Stimulation: Leaders can stimulate or inspire others to see how their day to day work affects the bigger picture.

  • Communication Skills: Leaders communicate well and so often so that their team knows the current happenings, future endeavours, and possible hurdles in the future.



How do you know if you are inspiring others to follow rather than ordering them to?

  • Calculating Value v/s Generating Value: Since managers are heavily focussed on meeting organizational goals and objectives, they tend to count or calculate value rather than try to create it. Leaders are free of this obligation, therefore they put their energies into creating value. Are you calculating value or creating it?

  • Circle of Influence v/s Circles of Power: Managers have subordinates which lead to their circle of power where their employees are compelled to follow directions given. Leaders have followers which creates a circle of influence where people are intrinsically motivated to follow. Of the people who come to you for guidance, do many of them not have a reporting relationship with you? If yes, then you are a leader.

  • Leading People v/s Managing People: Managers control employees with their organizational authority or power given to them in order to meet goals and objectives. Leaders inspire, motivate, encourage and enable others to give back to the organization without control or power. Are you controlling your employees or encouraging and enabling them to do their work?


This is an excerpt from the book- Principles of Management Essentials you Always Wanted to Know. To know more about the principles that govern management today, grab a copy of the book now.