What is the difference between a leader and a manager?

What is the difference between a leader and a manager?

What is the difference between a leader and a manager
Posted by David Galiana, on Monday 20 April 2020

“Leadership is the art of getting someone to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” – Dwight Eisenhower

Contrary to the widespread opinion, leadership and management are not synonymous. If a person can be a manager and a leader at once, they can equally be a manager without being a leader and vice versa.

Within an enterprise, both leaders and managers are indispensable, but it is often difficult to distinguish between them. The difference lies in the level of authority. A manager is a role. They are appointed, according to their hierarchy, as a person responsible for the team and for the people who work for them. By contrast, leaders are not appointed. They are followed, respected and admired thanks to what they have accomplished, their visions and their ideas.

8 differences between leaders and managers:

  1. The unique vs. the existing
  2. Vision vs. objectives
  3. Change vs. improvement
  4. Taking the risks vs. controlling the risks
  5. Regular learning vs. previously acquired knowledge
  6. Relationship building vs. processes construction
  7. Advising vs. managing
  8. Admirers vs. employees

Discover these 8 differences between leaders and managers to understand their roles and to learn how not to confuse them anymore.


1. The unique vs. the existing

A true leader is not afraid of being themselves. They are authentic, sincere and transparent. They are often a charismatic person who naturally wins respect and compels admiration. Leaders feel comfortable in their own skin and does not fear getting themsleves noticed, namely by putting their ideas and their vision forward.

Overall, managers adopt a managerial style and follows behaviours that he had observed or learned throughout their studies or trainings. They do not create (or very rarely) their own managerial style but rather apply the already existing ones.

2. Vision vs. objectives

A leader knows where they are and where they want to go. They have a project, a long-term vision, and they effortlessly manage to inspire people around them to do their best and to make this vision a reality.

A manager’s focus is on the achievement of objectives necessary for a vision to come to a realisation. They make sure that their team works efficiently towards the accomplishment of fixed objectives within a set deadline. In order to do so, they structure, plan and coordinate tasks, and they supervise scrupulously if their team follows the action plan that has been previously defined.

3. Change vs. improvement

A leader is not afraid of changes. In contrast, they are continuously looking for innovation as they know that it is always possible to do better. Thereby, they do not hesitate to change habits and revolutionise the present system.

A manager is happy to follow processes that have already been put in place and proved their perfect functioning, whilst keeping an eye on some adjustments and improvements if they are needed.

4. Taking the risks vs. controlling the risks

In order to implement their vision, leaders will not be hesitant about trying out new methods and exploring untouched paths. They do not fear failure, as they see it as nothing but a means to success. They seem to be inspired by Winston Churchill’s words: ‘Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm’.

For managers, the best means to reach their objectives is to avoid risks at all costs. They are going to make every effort to anticipate, minimise, control and totally eliminate risk.

5. Regular learning vs.  previously acquired knowledge

If they do not learn new things every day, leaders have an impression of regression. They are curious, everything interests them, and they constantly look to develop their competences to keep up to date with today’s rapidly changing world.

A manager prefers to replicate behaviours that have already proved to be efficient.  They rely on their expertise and are happy to polish already acquired skills and knowledge.

6. Relationship building vs. processes construction

A leader knows that to make their vision happen, they need to fully immerse themselves in it . They have to work hard to establish trusted relations by showing what they are capable of doing so that they can influence the people who are going to help them accomplish their project.

A manager is looking to implement efficient processes, standards and rules of work in order to achieve their objectives. They are mainly focused on means and methods to put in practice (agile method, Kanban, etc.), without neglecting the human aspect.

7. Advising vs. managing

A leader encourages people who follow him to do their best. They push them to develop their potential, to learn new skills, but they never tell them what to do and how.

The manager’s role is to manage their team. They give directives to follow, define responsibilities and assign the tasks to complete to reach their fixed objectives. They make sure to facilitate their collaborators’ work by listening and responding to their needs, doubts and questions.

8. Admirers vs. employees

A leader is usually surrounded by people who could be classified as their admirers. On top of following them, they support their leader, help them convey their vision and reinforce their visibility and credibility.

A manager is surrounded by employees who follow their directives, who want to respond to their expectations and satisfy their demands in order to reach their fixed objectives.


To conclude, these two quotes summarize well the difference between leaders and managers.

“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” Nelson Mandela

“A leader knows what’s best to do; a manager knows merely how best to do it.” Kenneth Adelman

And you, are you a manager, a leader or both?      

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