Manager or Leader: What’s the Difference?

Are you confused with what it takes to be a good manager or leader? You’re not the only one! Here’s a modern outlook!

Human capital

Christine Chartrand

VP Consulting Services

Monday, December 08, 2014


What are you looking for? A good manager or leader? Is there a difference? A lot of people would argue that yes, the two positions of power differ quite significantly in, well, just that: How they apply this power. One exudes the power to oversee, control and administer whereas the latter is said to empower!

In a general sense, there are some distinct features for both, but does this mean that one cannot overlap the other? Let us take a further look at what being a manager or leader is really all about today.

Manager or leader:  It’s not about opposites

If you’ve already done some research, you’ve probably come across a certain consistency of characteristics that are said to be more representative of a good manager or leader. But I read an interesting quote from Forbes that stood out among the rest:

You don’t need a Title to be a Leader

To me, this made sense, because leaders sometimes emerge out of nowhere, and they don’t necessarily need a title to support their role as an influential person. Managers, on the other hand, are typically granted a title so that others will see them as a person with decisional power and authority. Ok, but what about managers that have leadership potential?

Unlike some theories that give a “this or that” explanation, it is important to consider the possibility that some managers could embrace certain leadership traits, and vice versa.  Although we are sometimes guilty of seeing things as black or white, manager OR leader, reality has a tendency to prove that not everything is based on two mutually exclusive sets of ideas.

Yesterday’s managers are not today’s managers

The corporate world is in constant evolution. We would be foolish to think that how we define a good manager is an exception.

I have read a lot about the shift in the business world, where telling people what to do, commanding and controlling personnel is a thing of the past. The industrial era is over, and employees are not only looking to their managers to delegate their tasks, but to give them a purpose.

Now, I am not speaking for all business fields, but a manager’s responsibility for implementing processes might not be up to the standards of today’s more revolutionized organizations. Could it be that for some companies, good managers need a little side-order of leadership abilities?

Keeping up with generation Y

Let’s forget for a second about what is a manager or leader and look at how today’s employees WANT to be managed.

With so much discussion around generation Y coming into the workplace, with more creativity and need for independence, managers are now discovering that they need to rethink certain aspects of their employment cycle to meet the needs of this fast-paced generation. Maintaining these employees requires a whole new mindset.

Generation Y has been known to seek experience, career adventure, adopt a more entrepreneurial outlook and flexibility. They are risk-takers and will likely be more stimulated by breaking the mold on the traditional ways of doing things, challenging strict work schedules and long-standing processes.

So, this notion that managers control and administer, whereas leaders entrust and innovate may be too cut and dry for today’s expectations. Good managers today may need a certain amount of leader qualities to win the war for talent!

Does employee empowerment come from a manager or leader?

Again, this buzz surrounding employee empowerment has got me thinking about who is more likely to give employees more independence and responsibility to think for themselves and have unique views: is it a manager or a leader?

The obvious answer would be a leader, yet nowadays, are those in management who fail to engage in employee empowerment considered bad managers? Better yet: are managers today expected to develop instead of maintain, to pay as much attention to “people” as to “tasks”?

Does this Grace Hopper’s quote still apply to today’s standards of what is considered a good manager?

You Manage things,
You Lead people

– Grace Hopper

Manager or leader: Merging the two

It is possible that good managers today, who get the job done by successfully planning, controlling and directing their teams, can also embody certain traits that are considered leadership qualities. Have you ever had (or are YOU!) a manager who coordinated AND motivated you to be all that you can be? According to the business dictionary, “A manager asks “how” and “when”, whereas a leader asks “what” and why”.

But if you come across a manager that can ask “how”, “when”, “what” AND “why”, is this considered a hybrid manager?

Perhaps the debate today shouldn’t aim to separate the criteria of a manager or leader, but to consider what “leader” qualities transform managers into GOOD managers. And going a step further, wouldn’t it be great to uncover who among your employees have this natural capacity to inspire and empower others? There are tools that exist to help you figure that one out!

 I’d like to end with another quote from the Leadership Now website that pretty much sums it all up:

The conventional definition of management is getting work done through people, but real management is developing people through work.

– Agha Hasan Abedi

Now that sounds a lot like leadership to me!

Although being labeled manager or leader has certain distinct qualities, the focus is shifting towards how such positions of power meet the needs of today’s employees, who require more autonomy and flexibility, as well as opportunity to grow and challenge traditional ways of doing things. More than ever, employee empowerment and focusing not only on tasks but people’s potential are aspects of management that some deem necessary for the growth of an organization. Good managers seem to have some leadership qualities, while still maintaining their managerial title. What is considered a good manager in your organization?

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