Managing vs. Leading: 5 Important Differences


It’s been implied for years that management and leadership are virtually synonymous. It makes sense, given managers are often looked to as leaders within an organization. However, the two roles involve stark differences that are important to understand when searching for quality leaders.

This does not mean a manager cannot be a leader - merely that the functions are not as identical as they may appear. Keep this in mind when trying to identify leaders. Just because someone is a manager does not mean he or she will be the leader you are looking for.


Managers are often viewed as leaders, but think about what some of their essential functions are: hiring, firing, scheduling, budgeting and planning. These duties do not require leadership. Managers are traditionally focused on keeping the department functioning as efficiently as possible. To them, a team is a series of parts that can be swapped out, as long as the same tasks are accomplished.

Leaders, conversely, understand that teams are comprised of individuals whose energy and compatibility is just as important as the functions they serve. In other words, a leader’s mission it to foster creativity and responsibility in the workplace, working with individuals to achieve this. Employees must be engaged with their jobs to produce quality results. Leaders know this and help develop individuals instead of taking a managerial approach and simply focusing on the numbers.


It can be the tendency of managers to react to conflict with punishments or disciplinary threats. This is because managers are typically used to having the final say in matters. Their role is to manage employees, and they must retain that power through confident decision-making. This mindset can overpower a manager’s self-awareness and make them less open to discussion.

Good leader are able to admit when they make mistakes. They can open dialogues with employees and talk about any miscommunication. Fundamentally, leaders are willing to trust employees and discuss processes, whereas managers expect their instructions to be followed without hesitation.

Risk & Trust

It takes a certain kind of person to trust someone else with important tasks, especially when it is work-related. However, quality leaders can accept those inherent risks and provide that trust. This is not something managers are generally good at, since they are accustomed to being the final authority on matters.

Leaders, on the other hand, understand the importance of nurturing trust between employees and the benefits that will come with allowing another capable person to take charge. A good leader knows when to let someone else take the reins and can trust them to do so effectively.

Two-Way Learning

Managers like to be looked to as the subject matter experts on all topics. In their view, they are the head decision-makers, so they must be involved if a project has any chance of succeeding. This approach can alienate other ideas and discourage employees from sharing input in the first place. All it takes is one idea that can be curtly dismissed for an employee to start withholding their input altogether. It is important that employees are viewed as collaborators, not just worker bees.

Leaders know they care not always going to have the correct answers. They know how to build relationships with employees and collaborate on projects, instead of steamrolling everyone. Leaders are able to keep vital communication channels open by maintaining trust with employees and encouraging their participation.

Personal Voice

Managers, especially the old-school kind, may think it is prudent to leave one’s personality at home, taking on a different attitude at work. They believe success is a formula that can be solved by hiring the right people and hitting the right metrics. These managers were not taught the importance of having a personal voice.

This is not the approach a quality leader takes. Leaders know their personalities benefit their work, not diminish it. Speaking up in the face of ingrained practices and broken systems takes guts. Leaders have the strength to say what they believe will help their organization, despite opposition. They know the only way to secure credibility is to tell others what they need to hear, even if they do not want to hear it.

Amanda S