The Difference between Manager and Leader: Which One Are You?

Written by on 22nd February 2019

In recent years, so many articles have come up highlighting the differences between being a manager and a leader. In most of these write-ups, being a “mere manager” sounds very unappealing and this has somehow inspired more senior executives to strive being a leader instead.

However, one role is not necessarily better than the other. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a visionary à la Steve Jobs, there are certain situations that definitely call for a manager rather than a leader. This means that both roles are important in the growth of a company. To know which one you can best identify with, here are the key differences between a manager and a leader.


Leaders are often seen as motivational gurus who inspire people to become better in their work. They are focused on the bigger picture and drive people towards the same vision. Leaders make their people feel that they are part of a grand plan rather than just being hired to push buttons and tick the boxes.

Leaders have a high regard for those who think out of the box and who are not afraid to challenge the norm. They are more likely to have speeches about changing the world and making a difference in people’s lives.

Managers are more focused on getting things done but this does not mean that they don’t inspire. They are most likely the ones who will hand out praise or recognition at the end of the day for a job well-done.

They inspire through rewards and incentives. However, this is often limited to when you reach goals based on carefully mapped out plans and strategies. Managers typically won’t appreciate an off-plan move even if it turns out to be successful as leaders would.

Workplace Culture

Both leaders and managers are results-driven. This is probably a similarity that is non-negotiable. However, their paths to get to their end goals are poles apart.

Managers are sticklers for processes and rules. They direct what you need to do and you have to do it as instructed. Being detail-oriented, every single thing has to be reported, documented and followed based on agreed milestones. It is important for managers that staff members turn up to work on time and show up for the office prepared for the day ahead.

With managers, there is commonly a higher level of control to make sure that things get done. The primary concern is usually whether the process or the system employed is working rather than whether people are comfortable with the working environment.

On the contrary, leaders are usually focused on the people who work with them. They believe it is the people rather than the process that makes a company successful. For leaders, it is important that they create a workplace environment that sets up their team for success rather than what is expected or practical. They build personal relationships with their employees to make them feel that they own a piece of the business.

Leaders do not really care if you come to work in your sweatpants or if you spend most of the time doing your work in a Caribbean resort. They think unlimited vacations and new parent leaves are the greatest ideas ever. They don’t really go into the nitty-gritty of things and would not spoon feed you on how to do your job. As long as you’re delivering the results expected of you, you’ll keep your leader happy.

To put it more plainly, managers are more likely to reprimand you from being too much away from your desk, while leaders would actually join you in the break room and discuss why taking coffee breaks will actually help boost your productivity.

While working with a leader may seem like the more ideal setup, it may not always work for every organisation. In assembly-line types of businesses where groups of employees perform repetitive or highly specific tasks that do not require any deviation, having a manager may be more beneficial. Examples would be in industries where quality control is very critical like  building construction, food production, manufacturing, and in industries that operate specialised machinery.


Leaders are drivers of change. They are trailblazers and risk-takers. They are not contented with just being on the top, but they constantly strive to exceed beyond what is expected. They thrive on disrupting the status quo without showing fear of failing. Leaders don’t see their shortcomings as failures, rather, they see them as stepping stones towards the big dream.

Managers do not resent innovation but they prefer to take the tried and tested route. They weigh out all the pros and cons plus test out all the kinks before giving a new development the go-ahead. Managers go for the linear approach so there is always a beginning, middle and end to every task. This way they can pre-determine the outcome and attain the results they’ve projected.



Leaders are more likely to see the potential in a person and if their employees’ skills are not being maximised, they create new opportunities to make people succeed in roles that they enjoy and are good at. Leaders encourage their staff to develop their careers by pursuing further education or through excellent employee training programs that will not only benefit the company but the employees themselves.

Managers favour people who follow the rules and perform their work based on their job descriptions. They hire people who are already good at what they are supposed to do. Of course, they train their team in the beginning, but then you are expected to perform your tasks diligently on your own after that.

This does not mean that you’re stuck to one role because if you do well, managers will promote you to the next tier in the organisational chart. But don’t expect to jump a few levels ahead or get transferred to a totally unrelated department because managers often see career growth as a linear path that you have to follow.

The Hybrid

Some people are born leaders while some are successful in being effective managers. In saying that, it does not mean that you have to be stuck in one end of the spectrum. Depending on your company’s goals, you can combine a hybrid that can work for you and your people.


About the author

Richard Kao is the Sales Director of the UK-based office and tech solutions provider COS Sales. His day to day tasks involve managing client accounts, helping customers with queries, and directing his team to ensure the best results. He has extensive experience in the B2B world and lots to knowledge to share as a result.