Manager vs. Leader—What’s the Difference?

As driven businesswomen, many of us are climbing our way to leadership positions in one way or another.

Along the journey, have you ever heard the terms “manager” and “leader used interchangeably?

It’s a common misconception that they’re one in the same. To further complicate the discussion, let’s consider the fact that you can be both a manager and a leader, or one or the other. It’s easy to see why, at first glance, the two are often confused for one another.

But at their very core, leaders and managers are two distinct entities who play very different roles in an organization. Peel back the layers and you’ll see the fallacy crumble.  

So how can you identify who’s who? 

There are many differences that set apart a leader from a manager. Here are a few:

Key differences between managers and leaders

One is a title—the other is a choice. “Manager” is a title, while being a leader is a choice. That’s because leadership isn’t about what you do but how you inspire others around you to pursue a vision. As a leader, your number one mission is to cultivate a vision and empower your employees to unite around a common goal. Being a manager, on the other hand, is more about keeping the whole team accountable for completing tasks aligned with that vision.

Your responsibilities are different.

As a leader, your main focus is the vision. As a manager, you’re accountable for the details that get you there. The leader visualizes the plan, and the manager is more focused on systems and processes along the way. The leader is the northstar, and the manager is the executor

Team mentality vs. “you” mentality.

Leaders get promoted when their team does a good job—managers get promoted when they do a good job. That’s because true leaders make it their priority to serve their team and love their people. In fact, they value their people even before the mission they’ve set in place. This means leading through failures, taking responsibility through tough moments, and empowering their employees to grow and thrive.

True leaders create culture.

Good leaders take the time to set the culture of the workplace. And if the leader doesn’t exemplify that culture, then the culture fails to exist. In a negative workplace culture, you’ll often see grim attitudes, little productivity, and poor performance among teams. When this happens, there’s a high chance the leader’s direction is at the root of the problem. A healthy culture, on the other hand, empowers employees to grow, try new things, and risk failing. If you’re in a leadership position and don’t make this a priority, it creates a fear-based culture. In this case, employees are blamed for any wrongdoings and disloyalty and distrust are likely to occur between leadership and the rest of the team

Leaders lead through failure—managers reprimand for failure.

This leads us to the fifth and final difference between a leader and manager. If you’ve hired the right people and take time to train them, then how you respond to their failures is going to impact their commitment to you. An essential part of serving your team members as a leader is taking responsibility even when they fail and seeing each failure as a learning process, not a gateway to shame or lost privileges.

Self awareness is the first step into becoming the female leader you are destined to be.

If this advice resonates with you, maybe you’re ready to take the next step in your career. The truth is that none of us is perfect. But becoming a true leader means acknowledging that fact and becoming self-aware of your own strengths, weaknesses, and worldview. 

So if you haven’t already, now is the time to do some digging. Observe your habits, take note of your interactions with a variety of personality types, and study your own traits. One tool that changed my life and career trajectory was learning about my enneagram. You can learn more about yours here. 

Becoming a leader means serving your team. And you can’t do that with a narrow mind or limited perspective. When we misunderstand others, it’s because we don’t understand ourselves. Once you gain self awareness, you can see your blindspots and develop empathy for others.

This is the foundation on which leaders grow. 

So tell me—what’s holding you back from stepping into the leader you were born to be? Have you identified your strengths, weaknesses, and personality type?

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