The Manager vs The Leader


The Manager vs The Leader

Understanding the difference

“Nearly all men can endure adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”

Abraham Lincoln

I wanted to start this post with the famous quote from Abraham Lincoln, because it’s one of my favorite quotes about leadership. The first time I stumbled upon it, I was in my teens, and it was truly an AHA! moment for me. Some people were created to follow, and some to lead, that’s the natural order of things. Unfortunately, lots of people in places of authority and leadership lack the empathy, commitment, and whole-hearted sacrifice that true leadership demands.

Being the boss doesn’t make you a leader. And there’s no need for a title for some people to lead. As John Maxwell sums it, “leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less”. Leadership is in no way, shape, or form a synonym for management.

So, what’s the difference, you ask?

Let’s start with the basic concepts:

Team: A group of people who come together to achieve a common goal.

Boss: The person in charge of a worker or of an organization.

Manager: A person responsible to control or administer all or part of an organization.

Leader: A person who is inspiring and who puts the needs of the team before his or her own. A person who helps others achieve, by guiding and mentoring their growth.

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things”

Peter Druker

Management is all about the things you do. Successful managers have a vision, they are great at organizing, planning, creating strategy and driving execution. These people excel at problem solving. They are masters at presenting their ideas in a clear manner, whether it is through verbal communication or by using any kind of visual aids. They can manage a project skillfully, and drive process success without missing a beat, while keeping stakeholders and in some cases, shareholders informed and happy. Yet, I have firsthand encountered great managers that are just awful leaders.

For the sake of transparency, there are also some great leaders I’ve encountered, who are terrible managers and need the constant direction from someone else to drive performance.

Finding a combination of both is rare and it makes a huge difference for the team and the organization. Those rare ones are normally recognized as the top performers within an organization and tend to shine with a different kind of light.

Leadership requires a completely different set of human skills (the term soft skills is something I rather not use, there is nothing soft about knowing how to deal with other humans in the right way). Leadership is a skill, and as such it can be acquired and learned and like a muscle, will become better and stronger with time and practice.

Successful leaders have the same drive, vision and clarity as the manager above, yet they have that extra commitment to not only driving quantitative success in terms of performance and business growth; but also having that clear understanding that each person in their team represents a family, a livelihood for which they are now responsible. Leaders are willing to put their needs second in line and have the needs of the team be met before their own.

I have witnessed firsthand struggling teams being handed over to a “leader” in some cases to an individual within the organization who was due a promotion), which perceives the role as only the steppingstone for their next step up the corporate ladder. They see the role as just a platform to learn certain skills they lack to be considered for their next big move. And time and time again, the results are catastrophic. The struggling team continues to struggle, and the new appointed “leader” continues to be in the dark about why; after all, according to them the team just landed a “rockstar”so they should be somehow thriving, right?

These leaders start applying techniques based on manipulation and fear to demand higher performance, less absenteeism, more engagement and improved productivity, yet clueless that such techniques may bring some sort of short-term results but are far from sustainable in the long-term.

Some will try to show a friendly facade, for example break the team in groups and take them out to lunch to learn more about them, only to use such intel to clean house, leaving the few survivors both angry and completely distrustful.

Some will apply the “iron hand” right from the get-go, using implacable measurements and “chopping heads” to set the example of the new management (aka regime). They start the first day with an already formed opinion of who’s whom in the team, allowing other people’s bias to influence their decision-making, without even taking the time to get to know their people.

Others, just walk around, nod, ask a few nonsensical questions, which is further proof to the team that they just landed an idiot, and will never dare to provide any real insight and strategy because they have nothing to offer.
In these three scenarios, the team didn’t have a chance.

One of the strongest and most successful teams I have ever had the honor to lead, had gone through all three scenarios and was under severe corporate PTSD.

During my interview process I was told the team struggled with performance, work in process (WIP) was through the roof, yet the throughput was stuck in several bottlenecks throughout the entire process, work waiting parts and raw material was close to a million dollars, customer incoming units were getting lost during the inbound process, and that sort of things, but I was never told the whole truth about the real state of things until I found out my first day on the job. Toxic environment was an understatement.

The team’s distrust and anger were palpable. One of them clearly told me “You are my enemy until proven innocent” and that statement broke my heart for them. I was the fourth appointed leader in a lapse of 12 months, and they wanted nothing to do with me, it was them against the establishment, and I represented that establishment that had so horribly failed them. Yet despite the insane roller coaster, they had managed to keep the operation afloat.

They were pure gold, but nobody ever saw it before.

Let’s not forget that teams driven by fear and manipulation, instead of true, inspiring leadership, will walk away eventually. It’s just a matter of time and the leader, well, they are dooming themselves for failure.

It is truly a very straightforward process (not to be confused with simple), leaders identify and meet the needs of their teams, which can range from being listened to, encouraged, held accountable, feeling motivated, being paid fairly, respected, included, mentored, etc., then trust is established, which opens the door for influence. As James Hunter describes it, “it is the Law of Harvest – you reap what you sow. When you sow service and sacrifice by identifying and meeting needs, you will reap influence”which we have established by now, is the true essence of leadership.

If you are or have been in a leadership role, ask yourself these simple questions: What impact have I made on others with my presence? Are they better off now because I was part of their life?

Have an awesome rest of your week. thanks for reading and God bless,





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