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What’s the difference between a Leader and a Manager?

15 min read

manager vs leader

Bossing it vs. Inspiring others?  

Who are you working with? A leader or a manager? Let us understand the difference between these two with the help of an example.  

Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Ratan Tata are two dynamic personalities who have shaped the democratic and industrial future of India.  

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was considered a charismatic leader known for his oratory skills and the ability to build consensus among diverse political parties. He shaped the country’s foreign policies and fostered better relationships with neighbouring countries. His leadership qualities and commitment to national development and unity made him a global leader.  

On the other hand, Ratan Tata can be considered more of a manager than a leader. When serving as the Chairman of Tata Sons, he expanded its global presence and diversified the company into various industries. Ratan Tata is known for his effective managerial skills and for steering the Tata Group through periods of growth and transformation. 

These two examples show the difference between leadership and management. A leader is someone who motivates and inspires people to achieve their set goals. They act more like coaches and guide you through your professional journeys. Whereas, a manager is someone who directs you to deliver your work on time, assigns you tasks, and tracks & manages your progress.  

Who is a Manager? 

A manager is someone who organizes and directs their team in a way to meet organizational goals and achieve performance metrics. They are the gatekeepers of systems and structures and ensure the compliances are followed diligently. A manager’s roles and responsibilities also lie in keeping their team focused on the processes and maintaining status-quo.  

If you want to progress in your career and want to reach managerial positions, understanding what a manager entails is crucial. A manager is often involved in ensuring their team’s management functions well and aids the organizational growth. Here, management can be defined as the act of planning, organizing, coordinating, and controlling resources to achieve specific goals in an organization. 

There are different types of managers based on their levels or seniority. These include top-level managers, middle level managers, first-line managers, and team leaders. 

Who is a leader? 

The major difference between leader vs manager is that leaders always motivate and encourage their teammates to give their best performance. The first leadership theory was developed in 1900 which came to be known as Great Man Theories.   

Leadership can be defined in three ways depending on different perspectives. 

  • Achieve target through others: Leadership is not about a team lead or member directing others what to do. Over the years, a lot of leaders have been working hard to lead their teams to success. However, this success cannot be achieved without the contribution of every team member. In recent times, this definition has changed and now leadership is about trusting the team members. Today, leaders put their trust in their people and help them achieve their goals by creating a friendly environment.  
  • Dominating power of leadership: Leadership focuses on the person who remains dominant in a group or tribe. Usually, such individuals are considered to be the leader of that group. It focuses on the fact that a leader is meant to have power over people by holding the top position for a certain time.
  • Positive change towards the better journey: In this leadership style, leaders are believed to have the courage to stand up and voice concerns even at the cost of risks to their positions. This type of leadership does not require to give a formal appointment letter to the leader which means anybody can take the charge of a leader irrespective of this skill.  

Manager vs Leader: How  to Differentiate Leader from Manager 

Points of Difference Leaders  Managers 
Impact on People Acts as an influencer Focuses on delegating responsibilities 
Possession of Power Use personal power Use positional power 
Capacity to take responsibilities High May or may not take responsibilities 
Ability to motivate others High Delivers the task on time 
Proactiveness More proactive May or may not be proactive 
Personality Emphasis on practical effort Emphasis on rationality and control  

Other characteristics that show stark differences between managers and leaders include: 

  • Possession of Power 

Managers possess positional power which comes in three forms: 

  1. Legitimate power: This refers to the ability to influence others because of the positions they hold 
  2. Reward power: This power refers to the ability to award team members for their performance 
  3. Coercive power: This refers to punishing an employee for not adhering to a request 

Leaders hold personal power which they use to motivate their team members. This power comes in the following forms: 

  1. Exert power: It means acquiring expertise in certain areas attained through experience 
  2. Referential power: It refers to influencing others through personality, behavior, and charisma 
  3. Authentic power: It refers to the power gained through self-awareness 
  • Professional Development 

Leaders want the best for their employees and push their limits through training and development. They also promote employee participation in various roles to help them learn and grow. Managers are more concerned about achieving the goals and may not pay attention to the professional development of their team members.  

Key Similarities between Manager and Leader  

Common Points Managers Leaders 
Goal Achievement Focuses on goal achievement by directing and telling people Focuses on goal achievement by motivating people toward a shared goal 
People Oriented Ensure collaboration among team members  Guide their team members to complete the tasks efficiently 
Decision Making Making decisions for optimal team performance Making decisions for organizational objectives  
Skills Required Communication, interpersonal, and conflict resolution Communication, interpersonal, and conflict resolution 
Accountability Accountable for team’s performance and project’s success Accountable for team’s performance and project’s success 

Other characteristics that show similarities between leaders and managers are: 

  • Trust

Trust is another factor that is common for both managers and leaders. To build a high-performing team, team members and leaders should put their trust in each other. The trust factor is important when making decisions and communicating those decisions to the team members. Both leaders and managers should consider the 7Cs of trust when managing their team.  

trust

  • Similar Attributes 

People in leadership and management positions must have the attributes mentioned below. 

  1. Honesty: Showing sincerity to promises and commitments is necessary for both leaders and managers. However, if the leaders are not honest, employees may not trust them and the difference between leadership vs management becomes more prominent.  
  2. Forward-looking mindset: The mindsets should align with the organizational and departmental goals.  
  3. Inspiration: Managers and leaders should inspire employees with their vision and goal accomplishments.  
  4. Competence: Leaders and managers should be supportive, loyal, self-confident, intelligent, and open to gain the trust of their employees.  

Impact of Leader and Manager on Organizational Growth  

Organizations of every size are impacted by their leadership and management team. Over the years, researchers have noted a positive correlation between result-oriented behavior and performance. However, the research has given a less conclusive result regarding the performance impact of a leader’s task-oriented behavior.  

To motivate others and improve leadership qualities, effective leaders should use a combination of task and relationship-oriented behaviors. The strategic and operational decisions of the leadership and management teams affect the organizational effectiveness.  

Both leadership and management are important for improving firm performance. It is because important decisions related to acquisition, development, and deployment of organizational resources depend on the leadership. At the same time, managers are entitled to use the available resources efficiently to help the business achieve its goals. In various research studies on leadership and organizational excellence, it was found that there is a strong correlation between leadership and the characteristics of a firm.  

Leadership styles such as transactional and transformational help the organization achieve its vision and motivate the employees to contribute to organizational growth. Transactional leadership helps organizations achieve their objectives by linking job performance to valued rewards. Likewise, transformational leadership creates a strategic vision, communicates that vision to the employees, and helps in the fulfillment of that vision. In the presence of excellent leaders and managers, the effect created on organizational performance and individual contribution is the maximum.  

Importance of Leader and Manager Integration in Professional Growth 

Different theories of literature have established a link between leadership styles and the professional development of subordinates. For knowledge management in an organization the efforts of leaders, team members, and the organization must be in tandem. Leadership that encourages a culture oriented to learning, innovation, and open communication helps in the professional development of team members or subordinates.  

Different leadership styles have different effects on the professional development of team members. Organizations demonstrating developmental leadership displayed stronger relationships with job satisfaction, career certainty, and long-term commitment to the organization. It focuses on instilling a sense of motivation and self-esteem in team members by offering learning opportunities.  

In every organization, professional growth of individuals depends on formal and informal actions of learning at work. Therefore, leadership should allow every opportunity that pushes an individual to give their best performance.  

90% of work-based learning comes from informal processes. Leadership can help the employees in their professional development in three ways:  

  • By encouraging formal learning actions through intellectual stimulation of the team 
  • By encouraging informal learning and supporting employees to come up with innovations and ideas to make work better 
  • Through strategic management and developing a work environment that encourages learning and commitment.

leadership and manager

Conclusion

The difference between manager and leader lies in their work style, vision, and the way of handling their team. However, both leadership and management are needed to make an organization reach its highest level of efficiency and profits. They are the catalyst to professional development of subordinates, better working styles, and achievement of the company’s vision and mission. Leadership and management should not be compared to each other, instead they should complement each other.  

Watch the video to learn how compassion can be integrated into businesses, the role of leadership today and the roadmap to creating resilient leaders.

FAQ:

1. Who is a Leader?

A leader inspires, motivates, and guides others towards a shared vision. They build trust, foster collaboration, and drive innovation. Think Martin Luther King Jr., Malala Yousafzai.

2. Who is a manager?

A manager orchestrates tasks, allocates resources, and ensures smooth operations. They keep things running efficiently, solve problems, and hold people accountable. Think CEO of a company, your team supervisor.

 3. What are the key differences between a leader and a manager?

The difference between manager and leader can be summed up in the way they handle their team and organizational goal. Leaders focus on the “what” and “why,” managers the “how” and “when.” Leaders build relationships, managers manage processes. Leaders are visionaries, managers are executors.

 4. Can a manager also be a leader, and vice versa?

Yes! A great manager can also be a leader, inspiring their team with purpose and direction. And a true leader often needs management skills to execute their vision.

 5. What role does organizational culture play in distinguishing between leadership and management?

Culture shapes expectations. In a hierarchical culture, titles define leadership. In a collaborative culture, anyone can lead by influence and action.

6. What are the challenges associated with remote leadership and management?

Distance weakens connection, making it harder to inspire, build trust, and read nonverbal cues. Managers struggle to monitor progress and maintain team cohesion.

 7. How does digital transformation affect the roles of leaders and managers?

Technology automates tasks, freeing leaders to focus on strategy and innovation. Managers leverage data for better decision-making and performance tracking. Both need digital fluency to navigate the change.

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    Meet the author

    Ayushi Singh

    Content Writer

    Ayushi Singh is a Content Writer at Keka HR holding expertise on HR-related topics. She is an avid reader and traveler. When she is not writing, you can find her sitting in a quaint cafe daydreaming about life in general.

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