Common Purpose / 07 February 2024

What’s The Difference Between a Leader and a Manager?

From day-to-day to big picture.


In the workplace, words can carry entirely different meanings to real life. Because of this, it’s no surprise that people can become confused, or at least see blurred lines, and job titles can be a key culprit. When one thinks of a manager, it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that the person has accountability and autonomy over some aspect of their work, and the same could be said for a leader. In some workplaces, they’re one in the same, but if you're seeking to identify what both can mean, it's possible to draw core distinctions.

Below, we deep dive into the ways that mangers and leaders can be different. ‘Can’ is the operative word here, because for all intents and purposes, managers are leaders in their own right! This article unpacks how a leader's day to day and a manager's day to day could be defined and distinguished in a traditional sense. 

1. Leaders are the visualisers, managers are the doers

A leader will likely have a purpose, and a set of goals to achieve in order to fulfil that purpose. They may find themselves coming up with innovative ways these goals could be achieved, and they’re able to communicate this to others.

That’s where a manager might typically come in. They will look at this vision, and the goals a leader has set out to achieve it, and they will translate this into action. Whether it’s breaking things down into steps and delegating the work accordingly between team members, or strategizing and executing the essential work themselves. Whatever way you look at it, both leaders and managers play an essential role in achieving outcomes.

2. Leaders build networks, managers find ways to sustain them

As a leader, making connections with others both within and outside of their industry is incredibly important. Listening to different perspectives and insights will not only open their minds to new possibilities, but with the right assets, it can also help them to reach their goals faster. Because of this, a leader will dedicate time to meeting new people and networking efficiently.

In the meantime, managers will spend time working on the business that they work within. Their role might include managing structures and processes, ensuring its smooth running. This role is just as important, because the networks a leader works hard to establish will respect the well-oiled machine their managers and team members are operating in the background.

3. Leaders are risk takers, managers decrease risk

As previously mentioned, leaders will bring visions to the table, while managers do the groundwork to bring these visions to life. Similarly, when it comes to big visions (like, reach-for-the-stars big) leaders might be inclined to take a bit of a risk in order to see their goal through. This is all well and good when it’s well calculated and pays off, but the paying off part is more layered than you might think. That’s because behind the scenes, a manager will be working hard to ensure that despite the risk, the business is well positioned to not only survive it, but to thrive beyond it, too.

Similarly, managers might also foresee any future issues or risks that may arise within a set of objectives the business is setting out to achieve. You’ll often find them pre-empting these risks by taking steps to mitigate them, such as putting a case together to attain a new hire to help with workloads, or suggesting a team restructure when it is required.

4. Leaders bring organizations together, managers bring teams together

At an organization, most people would look to a founder or CEO as it’s overarching leader. They are responsible for the workflow of the organization as a whole, and any big milestone or achievement it reaches, a leader will be credited in part for creating the environment in which this could happen.

A manager also plays a huge part in this. While they might not be accountable for the entire organization, they are accountable for a team within the organization. This team forms part of the tool kit that ensures the running of the business – without them, screws might come lose and the whole thing could come toppling down. If a manager leads their team in an effective way while aligning with other parts of the organization, they are ultimately achieving organizational milestones just as a leader would.

With all of these points in mind, it’s clear that while in some instances, the day-to-day role of a leader compared to the role of a manager looks quite different, the two are just as important as each other. By co-existing harmoniously, and appreciating the impact of both positions, an organization can do great things. 


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