4 Essential Differences between Leaders and Managers

Hey, I get it.

You’re just starting out as an entrepreneur. You don’t have anyone working for you yet. That’s okay, it’s fine, really. Don’t think too much about that aspect of entrepreneurship.

It will come in time.

However, it’s a good idea to become familiar with some of the basic components of leadership because even though you might not be directly leading people right now, you’re leading your business, your future, and your ambitions.

There are essentially two different kinds of business people: leaders and followers. Since you’re stepping out away from the shadows of other business professionals, you’ve thrown off the shackles followers often willingly throw on themselves.

Yet don’t celebrate just yet. Among those who have chosen to not follow, there are two main types: leaders and managers. Managers have an ability to get things done within a confined space or parameter. Leaders drive success into the future, break out beyond the box of expectations others may place upon them, and dream big.

There are many differences between leaders and managers, but I’m going to discuss the main 4 in this article. They are:

  • Managers react … Leaders create.
  • Managers guide employees … Leaders build followers.
  • Managers focus on power over people … Leaders empower people.
  • Managers take credit … Leaders take responsibility.

Let’s get into these in more detail, shall we?

Managers react … Leaders create

There are times when you have to react to certain things. You’re driving down the road to your office or heading back from the store. A car begins to drift into your lane. It’s a slow drift … one you can see coming.

You might slow down, drift over, out of the way if possible, and if they continue on their path you’ll lay on the horn to wake them up. You’re reacting.

It’s fine to react in life.

However, when you’re talking about business, the last thing you want to do is get caught reacting too often. If you’re reacting, then you’re allowing outside forces to dictate what you do.

In other words, you’ll be playing catch up to your competitors and when you start doing that you’re going to have a monumental task of succeeding.

Managers are notorious for reacting. They have set goals, established by those above them on the proverbial corporate ladder. They take instructions and then dole out assignments to their subordinates (I never liked that word to describe employees, but it fits managers well).

When deadlines are about to be missed, when the current project suddenly doesn’t appear as though it will achieve the intended goal, the manager needs to react.

You can either be proactive or reactive to most situations. In my humble opinion, it’s always best to be proactive. After all, that means you’re anticipating things that might be coming, good or bad. That gives you more time to make adjustments and find solutions that don’t put you or your business at risk.

Let’s get back in the car for a moment. You’re a leader. You’re driving back home and you notice the car in question drifting, but it’s way off in the distance. By its movement it’s clear the driver is not paying attention, but it’s not a threat to you in any, shape, or form just yet. It’ll still be 30 seconds, at least, until you pass it.

Instead of waiting to react, though, you check your mirrors, check the blind spot, and shift over one lane, then another. You also begin slowing down.

While that car may actually not drift into the lane you just escaped, it very well could. However, you anticipated a potential problem and made an adjustment to remain safe.

You acted like a leader.

You took charge, evaluated the situation before most of the other drivers would even notice a problem, and put yourself in a better position to move beyond the hazard.

In the business world, leaders listen to their team members, partners, and others who may offer insight and advice. They might not heed all or even most of it, but they always listen because that puts them in the best position to make quality decisions about the future.

Managers guide employees … Leaders build followers.

When you’re a manager, you’re basically taking charge of employees. You send them work to do, establish deadlines, and it’s essentially a one-way relationship. You dictate, they follow.


Hey, a lot of managers out there get results from their employees. Some do with kindness, others with vinegar and vitriol. However, they will always be limited in their ability to grow and expand.

A manager is the type of person who will discourage free thought. He will tell his employees what he wants of them, what he expects, and he will be right there to admonish anyone who is beginning to slack off, spend too much time at the water cooler, or playing solitaire when they should be working.

Managers often struggle to maintain order, especially when they have intense deadlines and many employees.

Leaders, on the other hand, build followers.

Is there anyone in your life you were impressed by? Someone whom you heard speak or read their book and just had to know more about them? Was there anyone you wished you could follow and help them accomplish their goals?

That’s a leader.

A leader is the type of person who builds people up, listens to what they say, and empowers them to believe in themselves. They encourage creative thinking and while they do offer assignments, it’s a bit different in that leaders trust their team members.

Managers have a tendency distrust their employees.

Leaders share the short and long-term goals and rely on their team members to help establish them. They may state where they want to go within the next year or two, but then take advice and counsel from their team members to determine the best path by which to reach those goals.

Managers drive people away and leaders bring them closer. You bring people closer by making them feel welcome and as though they share the same goals and ambitions as you. Leaders don’t need to give away their money, shares in their company, or other assets; people follow leaders because they feel as though they truly matter, that if they weren’t there with the team things wouldn’t run as efficiently.

That’s how followers are created.

Managers focus on power over people … Leaders empower people.

Too many managers like the idea of wielding power over others. They like to keep people focused on fear; fear of getting ‘written up,’ fear of failing the ‘big boss,’ fear of being fired.

Managers look at the paycheck as their employees’ ‘reward’ and see no need to offer other incentives. After all, if an employee isn’t happy with their paycheck, they often reason, they can always go find work elsewhere.

Many people stay with a company solely for the paycheck and they worry about being able to find work elsewhere, especially during tough economic times. Managers love that power and they make good use of it.

Leaders don’t have a tendency to wield that same kind of power over their team members, even though they often have far more power than managers. After all, when you’re leading a team of willing and dedicated followers, you’re going to be able to accomplish a lot more over time.

But no, leaders avoid holding dominion over others. In fact, they readily seek to empower their team members.

Guiding them, mentoring them, showing them why a mistake was made and how to improve upon things next time. They give their team members trust to follow their instincts and training to achieve the company goals.

If they fail, it’s okay because leaders understand mistakes make stronger employees in the future.

Managers take credit … Leaders take responsibility.

Managers love taking credit for the hard work their employees did. Many employees look to their supervisor’s office with the closed door and the blinds drawn closed and imagine them sitting there putting golf balls back and forth all day while they (the employees) carry the workload.

That may be true in some situations, but not always. Managers simply have other tasks to accomplish and while they received an assignment from above and doled out the workload, when reward is due, they take the credit.

“Yes, sir, thank you. I know. It was tough, but I got it done.”

Not really … you’re employees got it done, but you go right ahead and steal the credit for it. After all, you’re a manager.

Leaders accept responsibility. They share in the rewards and let people know their team members had a significant hand in that success.

They also step up when things don’t go as planned. They stand up and say, “Yes, I take full responsibility for that and we are working on a solution right now.”

It’s not easy to take responsibility when things don’t go as planned, but that’s exactly what leaders do. Managers blame everyone else.

When you’re taking charge of your own dreams and responsibilities, you will need to choose whether you want to be a manager … or a leader. (Hint: leaders accomplish more goals and achieve success better than managers.)

Joseph Soares is globe-trotting serial entrepreneur who lives by one rule: He make’s his own. He’s an author-blogger, strategic communications expert & coach. He will be hosting a new upcoming podcast, ‘’Success Crumbs’’, a show who’s mission is to ‘’feed the entrepreneurial spirit in everyone’’. You can connect with Joseph via Twitter, Facebook, or his website.
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