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5 Unseen Differences Between a Manager and a Leader

5 min read
Last Updated on 29 January, 2021
5 Unseen Differences Between a Manager and a Leader

Most of us usually have a notion that a manager is obviously a good leader. But is that so? What exactly are the differences between a manager and a leader? How is effective leadership and management different? These are some questions that we are going to tackle here.

The most obvious answer would be that managers have subordinates and leaders have followers. Where managers tend to focus on outcomes, leaders focus on people with the bigger picture on the mind. But we believe that it’s a bit deeper than that.

Most people usually associate leadership qualities as something you are born with and not acquire. Of course, there are some who are born to be leaders but more often than not leaders slowly develop their leadership skills with experience and exposure. Leading people effectively is an art that cannot be learned overnight.

We are not here to bash the competent and experienced managers. At the end of the day, experienced mangers do tend to get their job done. But there are some differences regarding how a task is being undertaken by a leader and a manager.

Let’s look at some unique differences between a manager and a leader.

The visionary vs the outcome

Leaders are often described as a visionary who tend to look at the bigger picture than short term outcomes. They connect and inspire their followers to create something extraordinary. They improve the dynamics and interactions of their team. A well-oiled team ends up producing definite and concrete results.

On the other hand, managers tend to be more focussed on the outcomes - both measuring and achieving them. On top of that, they tend to be more indulged in the processes thereby decreasing autonomy.

Change Vs Status Quo

One thing that is perennial with great leaders is that they are adaptable to changes. Great leaders have the ideology of constant innovation. Even if things are going great, leaders often look for more space to optimize.

Great leaders aren’t scared of totally scrapping off a project or a methodology for a more efficient alternative. On the other hand, managers focus on the rigid and conventional methods of working. This applies not only to the corporate industry but also in various other disciplines. The manager sticks with well-known methods, the status quo, and strives to improve their efficiency. They aren’t known to be bold risk-takers but rather focuses on refining and fine-tuning the existing systems.

“Management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things”- Peter Drucker

The Coach vs The Dictator

Leaders are definitely known for their tenacity and as a mentor. They have a direct, positive and warm relation with all their “subordinates”. People who work for leaders often display a higher degree of efficiency and productivity in day to day operations. Strong leaders see their team members as competent and highly value their potential. Their leadership style is not that of micromanagement but rather it’s opposite. They believe that their team members can carry out a project without their intervention.

Well, a dictator might be a bit harsh, but you get the idea. Conventional managers discard motivation over getting results.

A few old school managers are known to micromanage, but micromanagement is not all that negative. Among other things, micromanagement can help a new employee come up to pace with the working standards of the industry. A new employee might prefer the guidance of a conventional and dependable manager than a flamboyant leader.

When a discussion regarding leaders and managers pops up, managers usually get the stick. But one thing’s for sure, experienced managers are known to get their job done.

Relationship vs systems

Leaders are often seen putting more focus on building a lasting relationship with both their clients and the stakeholders. Leaders have people with whom they connect on a personal level. Since leaders are known to have an efficient team, they often deliver results that were promised. This helps them maintain a lasting relationship with the stakeholders and clients.

Managers generally tend to focus more on the systems to achieve the goal. They want to optimize the structures which help them achieve a certain outcome. Of course, this is not all bad. These managerial skills come handy when you are looking for short term and instantaneous results. Managers have people who are efficient at a certain structure of work. A traditional industry like an investment banking sector or a law firm can benefit from these kinds of managerial insights.

Transactional Vs Transformational Leadership

This one might seem a bit harsh, but we have seen managers being transactional leaders.

What is a transactional leader you ask?

Remember the time when your dad bought you the bike when you aced the mathematics test? Similarly, you might also remember the time when you were grounded for a week due to poor performance or lack of discipline.

That is exactly what transactional leadership is all about. In transactional leadership, managers reward their team when they meet his expectations, subsequently, there is also some kind of “punishment” for not meeting a particular goal.

Sounds bad, right? Again it has its silver lining. It helps to have a transactional mentality when you need to focus on short term goals or are in dire need of a result.

Similarly, leaders are often seen to be practicing transformational leadership. Transformational leadership is a leadership style where people inspire and encourage people to be more productive without micromanaging. They have trained their employees well enough so that they can take independent decisions.

This is not an overnight process. This mentality is usually developed when examples at the executive levels are seen through a sense of strong company culture and independence in the workplace.

This kind of leadership is usually helpful when you have a young start-up and want to develop a strong foundation of a dedicated and involved workforce.


After discussion these differences we can see that there are a lot of differences in the styles of a leader and a manager. And both of them are necessary for an organization.

More so, it depends on the type of organization. A strict and conventional industry will probably be more suited to a managerial type of leadership. Whereas a young or a dynamic industry will be much depended on the transformational leadership of a leader.

Everything is good on paper unless you have tried it. You need to experiment with different types of models to understand which is best suited for your industry.

This article is written by Iftekar Ahmed. He works as a Content Creator and Digital Marketer at Vantage Circle. When he is not playing guitar or solving puzzles, he is often seen fussing over foods he can't eat because he is on a perennial dieting spree. For any related queries, contact