Leadership vs Management: How to be a leader instead of a manager

Managing a team of people brings with it responsibility. Many people take on management responsibilities at a relatively junior stage of their career, but rarely begin leadership training until they are more established.

It can be 10 years, occasionally longer, from that first management role to starting a leadership programme, which allows plenty of time for people to develop bad habits that are difficult to shake. These, in effect, become lost years when people could have been developing a more inspiring and agile set of skills to provide real leadership in the workplace.

Being a manager doesn’t automatically make you a leader. The principal difference between the two is that managers delegate tasks to those who work for them, but leaders inspire people to follow their example. They believe in the shared goals of the organisation and want to work hard to achieve them. Leaders empower their teams to make their own decisions, set goals and work effectively towards them.

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A manager vs leader personality

Management culture often places the emphasis on rationality and control. A manager is there to solve problems and to ensure that tasks are completed. They work out how to allocate resources and achieve targets while developing effective organisational structures.

From the perspective of a manager, leadership is a practical effort to direct affairs in the workplace. They are concerned with ensuring that everyone works efficiently whatever their status within the organisation and their responsibilities.

Management places less emphasis on creativity, inspiration and innovation and is more focused on practical efforts to direct affairs. Persistence, tough-mindedness, intelligence, hard work, diligence and goodwill are frequently identified as being important for managers.

While all of those qualities are desirable for leaders as well as managers, the former may look to exhibit a greater range of personal attributes. Leaders look to inspire and motivate, removing the need to micro-manage how an organisation operates. They focus more on increasing results by building and maintaining talented teams rather than ensuring tasks are completed through management.

Workplaces require both leaders and managers to function effectively. Leaders will also usually be effective managers who have the analytical and planning skills to ensure that specific tasks are completed on time. They will also have a range of other qualities that separate them from managers. Not every manager may want to become a leader but supporting those who do to make the transition can be beneficial for the organisation as well as the individuals involved.

The key differences between managers and leaders

As explored above there are some key differences between managers and leaders, what they do and how they act in the workplace. Some of the key differences are:

Leaders are visionaries

It’s the role of leaders to imagine how things could be done better in an organisation, even if that means making significant changes. These changes can often be disruptive but they’re perceived as being crucial to achieving particular goals. They are continually searching for new ways in which to improve products, services and processes.

Managers, on the other hand, are focused on administrating those processes, controlling costs and obtaining their personal goals. They may be less focused on the bigger picture and instead more engaged with their direct role and responsibilities. Managers take less of a strategic view and focus more on ensuring that the aspects of the company for which they have a managerial responsibility are carried out effectively.

Leaders look to motivate

While managers will primarily focus on overseeing and monitoring the people for whom they have managerial responsibility, leaders will place more emphasis on motivation. They will seek to empower their team to work independently, helping to equip them with the skills they need to act more autonomously as well as effectively. While good managers will also be able to motivate, it has less of a primary function in how they interact with people.

Leaders look to inspire trust and engagement, helping colleagues to feel more connected to the organisation and invested in its success. The manager may take a more results-oriented approach, whereas leaders will worry less about immediate results and more about the larger picture.

Leaders have a more empathetic approach

A key difference between leaders and managers is that the former will have more of an empathetic and people-oriented approach to getting results. The best leaders take time to get to know their team, and what they hope to achieve professionally and personally over time. They understand how to motivate and inspire different people to achieve results and reach their goals.

Managers will generally take a more focused approach to ensure that particular tasks are carried out as efficiently as possible. Good managers will need to be effective communicators but this will generally be directed towards more immediate and task-orientated ends.

Leaders will be good listeners and will place considerable emphasis and value on hearing what people in their team have to say. They will recognise that different people will have different experiences of the workplace and how it operates. Leaders understand that through listening to their team they may gain insights that help the whole organisation set smarter, more intelligent goals.

Leaders take more long-term decisions

Managers have to keep a sharp focus on ensuring that immediate and short-term goals and deadlines are met. This is essential to the delivery of services and making certain that customers are kept on board.

Leaders take a longer-term approach, focusing more on the macro elements of the organisation rather than what is immediately before them. The manager is focused on the day-to-day results, as well as their monthly or quarterly goals. Leaders think about the overall performance of the organisation.

Whereas a manager might look at how their team is managing health and safety risks that are particularly pertinent to them, a leader would focus on the health and safety culture across the entire organisation. In short, leaders are much more likely to focus on the bigger picture.

Leaders shape the organisational culture

A simple way of thinking about how leaders and managers differ from each other is to look at their relationship to the overall organisational culture. It’s the role of leaders to identify what a positive organisational culture would look like. They need to think about what kind of culture will support people as they work towards their personal and organisational goals.

On the other hand, managers will be more focused on endorsing that culture and ensuring that it’s applied across their own areas of responsibility. It’s the job of leaders to address problems in the company culture and the job of managers to ensure that people are working in line with that culture. It’s clear that both roles require a very different set of skills and talents.

Leaders encourage debate

While managers are expected to provide direction and then ensure compliance to achieve specific, immediate goals, leaders encourage debate. The leader sees debate as an opportunity to learn, teach and grow. Leaders love to be challenged, giving them the opportunity to explain and work through problems and ideas in a frank and trusting manner.

Leaders are looking to how policy and practices can be continuously improved and developed. Managers try to ensure that those same policies and practices are implemented as effectively as possible. Managers may be less likely to challenge corporate policy than leaders and will expect the same compliance from their team members.
Organisations that support and empower their leaders will expect to be challenged. They recognise debate, conversation and reflection as the way for the organisation to grow.

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Are you a manager or a leader?

It’s common for managerial and leadership roles to be confused. While a leadership role will usually involve some managerial responsibilities, not all managers are nor will want to be managers. In some cases, would-be leaders are not yet in managerial roles but exhibit some of the key skills required of leaders in their current roles.

If you’re currently in a managerial role and are looking to develop your leadership skills, then it’s important to consider how you operate within the workplace. It’s also crucial to look at how taking more of a leadership role would impact your current position

If you are focused on the day to day responsibilities and performance, rather than thinking about how your team or department could be improved, perhaps through radical change, then you are fulfilling a managerial role.

If you’d like to move towards more of a leadership role, either within your current role or in a new one, it can be helpful to talk to your own mentors and supervisors. What support is there available within your organisation to help you make the transition? The challenge is to make sure you are both leading your team as well as managing its day-to-day operation and performance.

Mentoring and formal training can help employees develop their leadership skills. Completing management courses can help would-be leaders change their approach at work, improving their performance in the process. This can also have a ripple effect, with emerging leaders passing on their skills, knowledge and enthusiasm to their colleagues.


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Inspiring your managers to become effective leaders

Organisations that promote a strong leadership culture throughout their organisation have a competitive advantage. They create an empowered workforce that is equipped with a broader skillset, where communication is prioritized and ideas for improvement are encouraged and valued.

They are more flexible and effective, able to adapt to sudden changes and respond creatively to new challenges. Creating a culture where fewer people are concerned merely with compliance but are thinking about how company culture, policies and procedures can be developed and transformed for the better, delivers real benefits.

Training is crucial to helping people make the transition. Organisations with leadership development programmes are able to identify would-be leaders and then give them the support and training they need to make the shift.

Bespoke leadership training from Leadership Success

At Leadership Success, we provide coach-guided leadership development programmes for individuals, teams and organisations. By investing in just 45 minutes a week you can start seeing real results.

With our focused learning programmes guided by an expert coach, we are with you every step of the way.

We work to inspire, motivate and equip the next generation of leaders to achieve their goals. We help organisations develop leadership programmes that are tailored to their specific needs, helping your best managers develop their leadership skills.

Our leadership coaches are experts across a wide range of leadership-related areas, from conflict resolution and mediation, and managing underperformance to executive coaching and leadership assessment. We help people develop the skills they need to become inspiring, motivated leaders ready to deliver change in their organisations.

Take a look at our services and speak to an expert to find out how bespoke leadership coaching from Leadership Success can help you and your organisation succeed.
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