remember the best manager you ever had. What made this person so disturbing to you? Was it their strict adherence to company policy, or their ability to effectively delegate tasks? Probably not. What made this person so memorable and effective probably had more to do with their emotional intelligence and long-term than their affinity for following rules. Most likely, your favorite manager is not just a “manager”. This man was also a leader. One of the most important lessons I've learned in my leadership career versus the manager difference is that not all leaders are leaders and not all leaders are managers. Adopting short-term goals and systems is one thing, inspiring people to a great goal is another. I would argue that the most successful people do both.((ON: What is the difference between managers and leaders?)) In other words, a real leader knows when to lead and when to manage. ((Forbes: difference between leaders and managers)) As the president of my company, I do my share of management. A personal investment in the long-term well-being of my organization forces me to hone my leadership skills, too. It's not always a seamless "switch" between these two focuses, but I'm most effective when I can use the best of both. My focus management skills with my leadership and my leadership add emotional intelligence to management.((Forbes: From Manager to Leader: 6 Most Important Skills for the Future)) So, what is the difference between a leader and a manager? Here are the 8 most important differences when it comes to leader vs manager so you can start to incorporate the best of both into your work.
1. Influence versus power
Most of the time, managers have titles that give them power. However, if you've ever been a manager who is rule oriented and results driven, you know there's a big difference between having power and influencing people.((Harvard Business Review: three differences between managers and leaders)) Not all leaders 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 developers who come to work every day excited to find solutions that help our clients. They don't have "manager" in their title, but their great ideas and enthusiasm motivate the rest of us to keep our company's long-term vision in mind - which makes them incredible leaders.
2. Having followers vs. having subordinates
An important part of a manager's job is to follow company policies and procedures. While this is an important role, it does not automatically create a leader. Leadership is more about generating trust and respect and, as a result, being seen as a person worth following. One surefire way to determine if you are a leader is to count the number of people who come to you for advice (outside of your direct reports). Before I started my own business, I worked for a software company. One of my colleagues constantly have colleagues interrupt him to ask questions. He was not a manager, but his character and hard work made people see him as a leader.
3. Focus on culture versus focus on results
Measuring results is one way to drive growth in any company. However, the truth is, long-term growth isn't just about numbers. It's about shaping 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, you need to move from a numbers-oriented to a people-oriented attitude. It can feel daunting to take your eyes off the table in favor of sitting down with a colleague over coffee, but just watch — when you've invested in your people, your results will improve along the way.
4. Future focus vs. current focus
I remember the feeling of fear I had as a child when my parents told me to clean my (albeit very dirty) room. The only thing that motivated me to keep my room in order was paying in cash (about $1) at the end of the week. As I got older, I started thinking a little more strategically. I wanted to save up for a new bike, but I knew it would take a lot more than $1 a week to make that happen. So I asked my parents for some extra chores and, after months of hard work doing laundry and washing up, I brought home my shiny, red bike. I didn't know, but I thought like a leader. While managers tend to fix their attention on the present (getting numbers cleared to avoid trouble), leaders have a vision for the future. Managers manage tasks to check them on the list, but managers are motivated to get things done because they can see the big picture.
5. Seeing Opportunity While Seeing Failure
Since managers tend to obsess over rules and results, failure is usually more black and white for them. This can be a positive thing to keep politics in mind, but the hyper-focus on right and wrong means that one "bad" move can destroy your team's morale and zap motivation. Leaders, who are more far-sighted, see the possibility of perceiving failure. ((Forbes: 7 differences between a leader and a manager)) losing a major client or receiving negative feedback from team members is not to move in the wrong direction, but an opportunity to rethink systems and come up with creative solutions.
6. Casting vision vs. giving directions
Managers are good at convincing people to follow the rules. Leaders, on the other hand, train people, not force them. The best teacher in my life was a passionate basketball coach. Of course, I had amazing teachers and instructors throughout my schooling, and the hands-on way my coach just clicked with me. He didn't just give us instructions, he had an extensive plan scribbled into his notebook and enthusiastically shared with us before every game. He didn't teach me how to be a technically good basketball player, he coached me to maximize my skills and grow in areas I wasn't that strong. By the end of the season, I wasn't just a better player - I was a better person.
7. Taking Risk vs. Playing Safely
Leaders are not afraid of failure because they see it as an opportunity - which means they are also more likely to venture into new directions and ideas. Managers are set on following existing maps to avoid taking a wrong turn, but executives often find themselves blazing brand new routes for their team to follow to success.((Business Insider: 17 of the biggest differences between managers and leaders))
8. Dedication effectiveness against
After all, 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 kicks, but his less than efficient approach bred more efficiency in the long run. I scored more points as the season progressed because he took the time to invest in me. The same principle is true in any organization: if we as leaders take the time, we might not think we need to develop our employees, we will be able to delegate more and more important tasks down the road. ((Harvard Business Review: Are managers and leaders really different things?))
Leadership may not always seem simple or effective, but in the end, a strategic vision (and a willingness to execute it, even if it eats up time) will breed more success and motivation. In my book, it's a victory for everyone.
More tips on how to become a leader
- What Makes a Good Leader: 9 Important Leadership Qualities
- 15 Best Leadership Books Every Leader Must Read To Succeed
- Leadership vs Management: Is One Better than the Other?