Are You A Leader Or A Manager?

Here’s 3 ways to tell.

Leaders see the comet coming. Managers mitigate the impact.

Some would say that a manager can be trained, while a leader is born.

What we do know is that they’re not mutually exclusive, they must work together, and sometimes they’re the same person.

Every company needs both Leaders and Managers… but their goals and required skills are different.

There’s a lot to know about these two critical roles… but to start, let’s look at three important traits that can help define one from the other.

1 Leaders envision and innovate. Managers organize and implement.

Leaders are strategic thinkers, whose eyes are on the horizon. They understand the competitive landscape, have a “matrix-like” insight into new opportunities and trends, and have clarity of purpose and vision, particularly for the company’s unique place in the industry.

Managers are on-the-ground tactical. While they might have the respect and appreciation of their reports, what they’re great at is not setting the vision, but pursuing it… supervising and optimizing process, watching the bottom-line, managing people, and preventing chaos.

2 Leaders ask ‘what’ and ‘why’. Managers ask ‘how’ and ‘when’.

When you’re looking at the “what and why” of an organization, industry trends and competitive growth can require re-evaluation of mandates and strategies.

Leaders need the ability to evaluate struggling initiatives, and make strong forward-thinking cases for either pivoting or staying the course. They’ll ask “What exactly is happening in context of the big picture?” and “Why does it matter to our strategic goals?”

They may need to stand up to senior management, who might be more tactical and reactive to road bumps. And if a pivot is required, a leader will ask “Why did this happen? What did we learn from it?”

Managers don’t need to assess and analyze failures. Their job is all about the “how and when,” so when the pivot comes, it’s the manager who needs to engage the people and the resources to shift in the new direction. They’ll ask “When do you want it?” and than set about managing the “How.”

3 Leaders inspire trust. Managers depend on control.

Leaders are able to inspire others to join in their vision, and to trust that they’re on a path that benefits everyone. Consequently, colleagues embrace and invest in the future, and are inspired to contribute toward organizational success.

Managers, on the other hand, needn’t create the vision. But they must organize the people and the resources to implement the vision efficiently and effectively. They need to keep reports on task and accountable, to ensure the job gets done as required.


These are three shorthand observations to jump-start your investigation into Leadership vs Management. There’s a lot more to understanding the evolving roles of leaders and managers... so I recommend a little reading.

The Wall Street Journal’s Essential Guide to Management: Lasting Lessons from the Best Leadership Minds of Our Time

WSJ Guide Excerpt

Are you a Leader Or Manager; Why not both?

The Edge of Leadership: A Leader’s Handbook for Success