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Leaders, Managers, or Both?

We tend to use the terms leader and manager interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two; there is a time and place to be a manager, a leader, or both.

Simply being in a management position doesn’t make someone an effective leader. I am sure we have encountered managers and leaders who, while well-intentioned, weren’t effective communicators, perhaps had poor organizational skills, or were too focused on results, not the team.

Can we be both a leader and a manager? Sure, we can encompass and embody the best of a manager and a leader because both go well together and complement each other. The goal is knowing when to be one versus the other, a skill that needs to be honed and practiced for the road ahead.

This article will briefly discuss some important distinctions between managing and leading.

Team Approach:

One of the first differences is how the team is managed. Managers control, and leaders give ownership. A manager will tell the team what they need to do and when it needs to be done. A leader will tell the team they are responsible for a specific task or deliverable and all the steps and accountability that come with those tasks.

Vision and Goals:

Leaders create a vision by painting a picture of what is possible and work to inspire and engage the team to create a reality of that vision. They activate the team to be a part of something bigger, working together to create a high-functioning team. Managers focus on setting, measuring, and achieving goals by controlling situations to meet or exceed objectives.


Leaders are willing to try new things and understand that failure is often a step toward success. Managers work to minimize risks by seeking to avoid or control problems rather than embracing them.


Leaders coach and are confident that their team has the answers or can find them. They view the team as competent and optimistic and resist the temptation to tell the team what or how to do tasks. Managers assign work and guide the team on how to accomplish them.


Leaders focus on people and all the stakeholders and spend most of their time with them realizing their vision. This helps with building loyalty and trust by delivering on their promise. Managers focus on the structures necessary to set and achieve goals, focusing on the analytical and ensuring systems are in place to attain desired outcomes.

As discussed, the differences between leaders and managers are subtle but can significantly affect the team’s performance and the result. Leadership is focused on motivating people to understand and work towards the vision, while managers are more about ensuring that the day-to-day activities are done.

Leaders and managers can wear two hats utilizing different skills to be successful. Knowing when to lead and manage your team can help create a cohesive group that works well. Managing and leading at the appropriate times can also help your team members succeed in their careers for the road ahead.


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