What is the difference between a leader and a manager?

Managers represent the organizational structure, while leaders transcend the organization.

Q: What is the difference between a leader and a manager



Leaders influence people by creating and communicating a compelling vision contrasting how it is with how it could be. Some leaders do this without “power” which is to say they do not have people working for them directly like a manager. Instead, leaders need to influence people into believing a shared vision of what could be and then help point the direction on how to realize it.


Managers are a special kind of leader. Managers are often seen as an extension of human resources and this is a limiting view. Managers should be leaders first and HR process second.

Why the confusion

Articles like this one in Forbes does a disservice to leaders and managers as it perpetuates stereotypes that they exist on a continuum. Even the Harvard Business Review published similar content, mostly I presume because they are advocating that you ought to aspire to be a leader, as if the c-suite isn’t filled with leaders that are also managers? If you Google leadership vs. manager, you will find more of this kind of polarization. The takeaway should be that it is possible to be a manager and not be a leader and we can point at those examples and fault them, while leaders are always great, which is obviously not true.

What we can agree on is that anyone can be a leader and develop their leadership capabilities. Managers should be leaders, or it is a missed opportunity for everyone involved—the leader, their people, their peers, their management team. You see, managers get the privilege of representing the Company to their people, particularly first line managers. That face of the Company makes more difference to that individual than the CEO will ever. The responsibility is actually considerable in this light. When a manager leads their team, the HR aspects greatly simplify, because you are never making people do work, you are not punching the clock, checking the lists or processing email and meetings.

Actions that change everything


If you are a leader

  • Don’t shy away from management because pop culture paints it as something different
  • Find managers that are leading and amplify their contribution
  • Find managers that are not leading and coach them differently—things won’t change and one of the best things leaders do is multiply and grow people

If you are a manager

  • Make sure you are leading first and HR processing second
  • When you find yourself HR processing, consider how to execute from a leadership mindset—nothing has to be cold and robotic, even if lawyers disagree
  • Find managers that are not leading and coach them differently—leaders without people can coach, but managers coaching managers is incredibly powerful

Three great books for all leaders

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