Are You a Leader or Manager? 7 Key Differences

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Almost all of us have experienced working under individuals who led or managed well, and have also experienced working under individuals who led or managed poorly.

What factors differentiate these experiences? Why is there such a wide spectrum of competence amongst individuals that hold management or leadership positions?

In developing your skills as a leader or manager, it is important to understand the differences between leadership and management roles.

While true leaders can be hard to find, management requires its own unique skill set and not all leaders are cut out for the rigors of effectively managing processes or systems.

Below, we’ll compare the roles of leaders and managers in the workplace and help you determine which role might suit you better and allow your natural talents to shine.

1. Managers Tend to Be Specialized

Effective leaders are good at recruiting others to a mission – that is, they are capable of conceiving a future vision or potential outcome, expressing that vision to others, and inviting them to join in the pursuit of that vision.

However, once a broad-level idea has been agreed upon, the real work of achieving that outcome begins. This is where managers become crucial.

Managers often have specialized skill sets that allow them to effectively enact that vision. Often working in or with teams, managers set visions into motion by overseeing processes that will turn an idea into reality.

Without managers and their specific skill sets, even the best strategic vision could be crippled by an inability to bring it about.

2. Leaders Are “EQ” Masters

Leaders influence other people and guide them through a mission of executing an idea. How does a leader persuade others to become involved? One essential skill any leader must possess is the ability to connect with others.

This trait is part of a skill set known as “Emotional Intelligence.”

One’s “Emotional Quotient,” or EQ, measures his or her emotional intelligence and indicates his or her ability to understand, relate to, and recognize emotions both internally and in others.

 In order to connect effectively with other people, leaders must be able to accurately read and appeal to the emotions of those with whom they communicate.

Those that possess a high EQ are self-aware (i.e. objective and informed about their own strengths and weaknesses), empathetic, eager to learn, and ready to listen. Individuals must consistently demonstrate emotional intelligence in order to lead effectively.

3. Managers are Goal-Oriented

Making vision into reality almost always requires setting actionable goals that will bring that vision to life. Leaders are often strongest in the areas of casting vision and imagining a better future for their team, effort, or organization.

This does not mean that leaders are not capable of or naturally bent towards setting and achieving goals — plenty of visionary leaders are capable of translating vision into action steps.

However, this is one area where managers and leaders can naturally and effectively support each other. When leaders and managers work together, leaders can focus their efforts and natural strengths on developing vision and recruiting others to be passionate about that vision, while managers can turn that vision into reality by setting and achieving concrete goals.

4. Leaders and Managers Understand how to Motivate Team Members

Whether a leader or a manager, to be effective in your role you must understand how to motivate others. Ineffective motivators often feel like they are spinning their wheels or that they have lazy, unproductive, or unskilled teams.

But by learning effective motivation techniques, any leader or manager can engage their teams or employees and work towards increased performance.

One technique for motivating team members is to utilize positive communication patterns. People are willing to work harder when they feel like they are valued, and one effective way to communicate value to your team is to communicate with and listen to each team member. When you listen to your team, you show them that you value their contributions and opinions.

Another effective motivation method is to exemplify the behaviors you want to see your team demonstrate. It sounds elementary, but improving the work ethic or performance of your team can sometimes be as simple as modeling it for them first.

5. Leaders Exist at the Brink of Cutting-Edge Tech

No matter what field or industry, leaders explore and experiment with cutting-edge strategies and technologies. Take the healthcare industry as an example: Two-thirds of health leaders are boosting data programs in their efforts to best utilize available technology.

In virtually any industry, organizations at the front of the pack are often those that are best equipped with the latest technology. Leaders effectively seek methods of utilizing technological offerings and applying them in creative or cutting-edge ways.

6. Managers Control Risk

Being an effective leader often requires questioning the status quo and being willing to take big risks. However, though risk-taking is sometimes advantageous and necessary, the nature of risk makes it a fickle friend and for as many occasions when taking a risk might be appropriate, there are just as many when lessening risk is critical.

After a leader has set a visionary course, a manager’s detail- and process-oriented strengths can help make sure that initiatives and strategies align with strategic goals and are not overly risky. Without a manager’s input, an organization or effort may incur unnecessary risk and thus be crippled by gambles that don’t turn out in its favor.

7. Leaders Prioritize Organizational Culture 

Managers are often ultimately responsible for production and performance. Their natural aptitudes lend themselves to building effective processes. Because of this, their role within an organization does not always emphasize creating a strong organizational culture.

It is often leaders that prioritize this aspect of the organization and help weave connection and mutual affinity amongst their team members. Leaders take pride in the work of organizational culture.

Teams and organizations that have a strong sense of community maintain the highest chances of long-term productivity and achievement.

When effectively balanced, the role that leaders and managers play within an organization complement each other and can provide the organization with the best chances of not only choosing a worthwhile vision but effectively turning that vision into reality.

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