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Managing vs. Leading- What's the difference?

Nov 16, 2023

In the ever-evolving landscape of organisations, two distinct roles stand out as pillars of success: the manager and the leader. These roles are often used interchangeably, both within corporate structures (e.g. “upper management” is often thought to mean the same as the “leadership team”) and role meanings. However, they each have their own unique characteristics, approaches, and impacts on an organisation's culture and performance.


In this blog post, we delve into the differences between managers and leaders, with a focus on the interplay of empowerment versus control. We'll also explore other pros and cons and behavioural distinctions that set these roles apart.


Empowerment vs. Control:


Managers, by nature, are task-oriented. They thrive on control, ensuring that processes run efficiently, goals are met, and resources are allocated wisely. Their approach is often top-down, with a strong emphasis on supervision, compliance, and adherence to established protocols - More of a “Do as I say” approach. Managers prefer a structured environment where they can oversee tasks, make decisions based on data, and minimise risks.


On the other hand, leaders are people-oriented and thrive on empowerment. They inspire and motivate their teams, fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility. Leaders encourage creativity, initiative, and risk-taking, granting individuals the autonomy to make decisions and learn from their experiences. Their leadership style is more flexible, adaptive, and future-oriented, and there is a greater emphasis as “Do as I do”. As the famous Gandhi quote says, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”


Focus on Tasks vs. People:


Managers concentrate on the immediate tasks at hand. They work tirelessly to meet targets, uphold operational efficiency, and ensure that the established processes are followed to the letter. Their primary concern is the successful completion of daily operations and short-term goals.


Leaders, however, are more interested in the people who execute these tasks. They prioritise the development and well-being of their team members, cultivating positive working environments and strong relationships. Leaders understand that a motivated and engaged team is more likely to achieve long-term success.


Short-term vs. Long-term Vision:


Managers typically have a short-term perspective. Their focus revolves around meeting quarterly or yearly targets and maintaining stability within the organisation.
They ensure that daily operations run smoothly and efficiently.


In contrast, leaders take a long-term view, envisioning the organisation's future and guiding it toward that vision. They set a strategic direction and inspire others to align their efforts with this overarching purpose.


Reaction vs. Innovation:


Managers often find themselves in a reactive mode, addressing problems as they arise and ensuring that daily operations are not disrupted. They excel at maintaining the status quo.


Leaders are more inclined to be innovative, seeking opportunities for improvement, growth, and change. They see problems, mistakes or issues as growth opportunities, and engage in reflection and feed-forward thinking. They encourage experimentation, adapt to new challenges, and are not afraid to step into the unknown.


Pros and Cons:


Managers excel at efficient task execution, structured processes, and risk mitigation. However, they may struggle with limited creativity, potential for micromanagement, and resistance to change.


Leaders inspire and motivate, promote innovation, and possess a long-term vision. Yet, they may lack focus on day-to-day operations, occasionally leaving room for vagueness and a lack of structure without effective management in place.


Behavioural Differences:


Managers exhibit behaviours such as directing, organising, planning, coordinating, and controlling. They rely on authority and hierarchy to drive results.


Leaders, on the other hand, demonstrate behaviours like inspiring, motivating, empowering, coaching, and mentoring. They build trust, communicate a compelling vision, and lead by example.


In the real world, organisations benefit from a balance of both managerial and leadership qualities - even within the same individual. Effective managers ensure that daily operations run smoothly, resources are allocated wisely, and tasks are executed efficiently, and if this is your jam, you may find yourself needing professional development to support greater leadership qualities. At the same time, strong leaders provide direction, inspiration, and adaptability for the organisation's long-term success, and if this is you, your professional development may look quite different, focusing on the managerial aspects of your role.


Ultimately, successful businesses and teams require both. The key is recognising when to employ each set of skills and how to integrate them harmoniously within the context of the organisation's goals and culture. Striking this balance is the key to thriving in the complex and dynamic world of modern business.


At Re-MIND Institute, we believe that heart-centred leadership is essential for building strong and productive relationships, enhancing productivity, improving workplace culture, and setting people up for success. We partner with companies to transform their workplaces, beginning at the executive level. We help leaders develop the skills they need to lead with compassion, empathy, and authenticity, creating a culture of trust and respect where everyone feels valued and supported.