Leader VS. Manager: How Are They Different From Each Other?

For today, we have a comparison between what is a leader and what is a manager, and how you can differentiate between the two.

So, let’s look at the first difference, which is that a leader steps out of their comfort zone while the manager is working on the status quo.

What does this mean? This means that leaders are usually someone who gets out of their way and shakes things up and distracts people. They make sure that things are happening, and that things are moving. And, if there’s something new, they make sure they know what it is if it’s something they can use, and they make decisions on how to acquire it and use it. 

Managers, on the other hand, they’re more the type to say, “This is what works. These are the rules, let’s not break the processes that we have. Let’s stick to them. Let’s stick to the system that has been in place. They’re not broken. Why fix it?” 

Managers are all about the status quo. They make sure that things work as they are.

Now, before I move on to the other points, I just want you guys to understand first that all companies need both. All companies need leaders and all companies need managers. You cannot have a lack or an excess of any one of the two. You have to have leaders and managers.

If, however, you have leaders who are also managers and managers who are also leaders, then that is the best-case scenario you can ever have. 

So these are not mutually exclusive things. These are things that can both exist in one person and can be practiced by one special individual in your team.

Now that I have cleared that up, another difference between a leader and a manager would be: The leader focuses more on people and the manager focuses more on the results.

Going back to what I said earlier, it could be one individual and that individual focuses both on people and the numbers and results. But as we have things in our world today, usually, you have one or the other, and that is why I’m splitting into two right now. 

But if you can be the same person who focuses both on people and the results, then that is the best-case scenario.

So leaders focus on people. What that means is that leaders invest in their people. They ask people how they are. They treat people as individuals. They want to know when your birthday is, and what you’re going to be doing then. They want to know who your parents are, and what they do for a living. They want to know more about their people.

Managers are more focused on your output, on the numbers, and on the KPI. Did we hit them? And if you didn’t, what can we do to help? How can you be able to hit that? Rather than the mushy side of the things they say.

Now, this doesn’t mean that if you’re more focused on people, you would disregard output, because that’s going to make you a horrible person to work with, right? 

So as a leader, you focus on people, but you also have to know your numbers. This is why I say, the best-case scenario is one person for both sides.

Another difference is the leader is usually a trailblazer and the manager is usually working around parameters and rules.

When I say trailblazer, they’re usually someone who likes to skirt around the rules or break them altogether. Their inner dialogue might look like this:

“Oh, these are the rules. These are the parameters. What if we go out of bounds in this area and that area? What’s going to happen? Can we improve things that way? Can we test it out? Can we experiment?”

“If we make a mistake, then we learn from that. We evaluate that. It’s paid for by the company. If we don’t make a mistake, if this thing actually works, then we make a lot of money and we save a lot of money for the company.” Leaders usually think that way.

Managers usually think in a different way. They think, “These are the rules in the parameters, there’s a reason why they exist. Whether I know it or not doesn’t matter. They exist. So let’s follow them.

It’s like the experiment that certain scientists did way back, wherein they put a long pole in the middle of the room, and placed a pile of bananas at the very top of the pole. Then, they let ten monkeys in the room — when one monkey would start to climb up that pole, what they would do is blast that monkey with high-pressure water.

And what happens is, of course, the monkey would tumble down, soaked, and they would not like the experience. After a short while, another monkey would make the same attempt, and they too would get blasted with water.

And this happened until all ten of the monkeys had been blasted with water, and whenever any one of them would want to try an attempt again, the other nine monkeys would try to pull that one down. So one by one, they swap the monkeys out with a new monkey who has never attempted to go after the banana.

And when the new monkeys would try to climb up the pole, all the other monkeys who have experienced the flushing down of the water would pull the new monkey down. Until there were ten new monkeys in the room, and whenever any one of them would try to climb up that pole and get to the banana, they would pull each other down without even knowing why.

That is the picture of a manager who just follows rules and parameters. Sometimes, they don’t even know why they’re doing that. But those are the rules and they don’t want to get pulled down by other monkeys in the company, so they follow them.

Another difference between a leader and a manager is that the leader usually rallies people from the front, while the manager usually delegates orders from behind.

Having someone, a leader, who rallies from the front is so important because people will see: are you practicing what you preach? Are you actually also working alongside us or ahead of us? What have you done for the organization that I should follow you and that you should earn my respect and my trust?

And those who lead from the front — who charge from the front — gain a huge amount of influence from the people who are called to follow them.

Managers who delegate and bark orders from behind usually find it difficult to get that same influence because their people are thinking, “This guy or this lady is just telling me what to do, but they’re not lifting a finger to help me out. They’re just giving me more orders. They’re just giving me more things to work on and they’re just sitting there warming their butts.”

As you can see, there’s going to be a very big difference in terms of the respect and trust you earn when you rally people from the front, compared to when you delegate from behind.

The truth is that there will be people who follow leaders because they are charging from the front. They see that these leaders are out there sacrificing themselves, making sure that they practice what they preach. They’re actually serving the rest of the team that they have been called to lead. People are influenced by them voluntarily, and that makes them follow that leader from the heart.

Another difference is the leader is usually futuristic. They’re looking at tomorrow, they’re looking at the next week, the next month, the next year. What can happen? How can we improve? How can we be the best, the best version of who we are?

And those are sometimes scary things for the manager to see and imagine. The managers usually focus on the here and now. Now, there are managers who strategically plan for the next quarter, for the next year. That is a totally different thing because there are meetings that are set aside for strategy, but the manager is usually focused on the here and now.

They ask themselves, “What can we do here and now to hit these numbers that were assigned to me? What can we do here and now to make things happen within these parameters and these rules? What can I do here and now to make things more efficient for my entire team, making sure that they’re all working and no one is in downtime right now?”

In short, they’re not looking at the future. They’re more preoccupied with their numbers and output right now.

And the main difference between a leader and a manager is, the leader is someone who relies on influence, while the manager is someone who usually relies on their position. And managers do this because they’re output-based and not people-based. 

A lot of their very own people do not trust them or do not give them the respect they should have, so they rely on their position to make sure that things move and that they are able to push things forward and push people around as well.

I hope that this post has been able to enlighten you about the differences between a leader and a manager. Again, they’re not mutually exclusive. Both attributes can co-exist in one person and that’s going to be the best-case scenario. Unfortunately, for our world today, they rarely do.

Sean Si

About Sean

is a motivational speaker and is the head honcho and editor-in-chief of SEO Hacker. He does SEO Services for companies in the Philippines and Abroad. Connect with him at Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Check out his new project, Aquascape Philippines

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