Leader vs. Manager: 7 Key Differences

By Indeed Editorial Team

December 21, 2021

Leaders are people who inspire their teams to achieve their goals, while managers are people who strategize ways to meet those goals. In this article, we discuss seven key differences between a leader and a manager, when to lead vs. when to manage and we provide examples of the most appropriate situations for each.

What is a leader?

Leadership is the act of helping a person or group of people achieve an agreed-upon goal. Common qualities associated with leadership include the ability to motivate, inspire and encourage others to pursue and see their vision through. Leadership tends to focus more on increasing results by building and maintaining talented teams rather than ensuring tasks are completed through management.

Read more: 10 Common Leadership Styles (With Examples)

What is a manager?

Management is the process of controlling or dealing with situations, things or people. The act of managing may include coordinating, organizing and planning to ensure a certain outcome is achieved. Managing a situation or team within the workplace often involves constantly reassessing and tweaking results to measure productivity and improve output.

Related: Guide to People Management: Definition, Tips and Skills

Leader vs. manager: 7 differences

Both leadership and management are equally important within the workplace. However, these two qualities are often very different and an in-depth understanding of when to use each is required. The following are seven of the most significant differences between leading and managing at work:

1. Leadership is often based on a mission, while management is often based on a specific task being completed.

2. Management involves following the rules closely, while leadership often entails creativity and innovation.

3. Management is more focused on controlling people and outcomes, while leadership often centers around inspiring people to think outside of the box.

4. Leaders motivate and inspire, while managers direct.

5. Management focuses on optimizing the execution of a process, while leadership focuses on optimizing a team as a whole.

6. Management is more quantitative, while leadership is more qualitative.

7. The results of leadership are often intangible, while the results of management are easily measurable.

When to manage and when to lead your team

Knowing when to manage and when to lead can help create a cohesive team that functions well in positive conditions as well as crises. Leading when it is appropriate and managing when it is required can help your team perform much better and excel in their careers. The following are examples of when it may be better to lead vs. when you should manage your employees:

When to manage your team

  • During a crisis or emergency situation

  • For issues that involve processes or projects

  • When training new team members

  • When completing work on a deadline

  • When delegating important tasks

  • When a situation requires specific results

An example of when to manage your team might involve a situation where employees are inexperienced with the task they have been assigned. In this circumstance, the members of your team will need extra assistance. Help your employees by telling them exactly what to do to accomplish the task. Give them a clear description of the goal and make sure you have examples for them to follow so that they understand exactly what is expected.

When to lead your team

  • When employees are confident in their abilities and are performing tasks efficiently

  • When you can trust your team members to do the tasks they have been given without micromanaging them

  • When you are introducing a new approach to the workplace

  • During creative discussions or team meetings

Lead your team when your employees are already producing good results and have strong capabilities in their work. When you can trust in their skills but need to define the goal, your team members should be led instead of managed.

Once you become more accustomed to your team and their needs, you will be able to approach each situation by asking yourself if your team needs to be managed, led or a combination of both. The better you get to know your team, the easier it will be to identify their needs. New employees may need more hands-on management until they are more confident and skilled in their duties. Seasoned employees who are highly qualified will do better with minimal direction.

Examples of leader skills vs. manager skills

The following are specific examples of both leadership and management skills and traits within the workplace:

Leader skills

  • Has a vision

  • Thinks strategically

  • Creates a mission statement

  • Defines the purpose of the team

  • Considers the strengths of each team member

  • Inspires behavior

  • Satisfies the unmet needs of employees

  • Encourages commitment

  • Reaches long-term goals

  • Gives feedback

  • Motivates

  • Creates change

  • Takes calculated risks

Manager skills

  • Improves productivity and efficiency

  • Establishes processes and streamlines systems

  • Follows through on realizing the mission statement

  • Sets timelines

  • Is organized

  • Creates budgets

  • Solves problems

  • Maintains quality

  • Demands action

  • Focuses on strategic planning

  • Creates order

  • Establishes rules

  • Corrects behavior

  • Minimizes risks

Identify your strengths and opportunities for improvement. You will need skills in both leadership and management to maintain a happy and productive team.

How to measure effective leadership

Effective leadership can be measured by the behavior of your team. If your employees are often absent, disengaged or unsatisfied, something may be lacking in your leadership approach. When employees are not progressing in their careers or adhering to company policies, you may need to reconsider your skills as a leader. Overall job satisfaction among your employees is one way to determine whether your leadership style is effective.

Related: How To Demonstrate Leadership Skills at Work

How to measure effective management

Effective management can be measured with traditional performance metrics, such as the quantity and quality of output, meeting deadlines and adhering to budgets. If your team is consistently failing to produce enough quality work on time, your management style may not be helping your team.

Work on providing direct support to your team members when they are struggling with a challenging task. Give them a goal to meet but, if they are capable, let them decide how to go about reaching that goal. Check in regularly to see how your staff is progressing on their tasks, and offer a specific direction if needed.


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