Managers versus Leaders

Learn what differentiates managers and leaders and how you can become more effective at whichever role you wish to play

Leader and manager positions are different, although the same person may often perform the two jobs. Leaders, and those with effective leadership skills, manage employees and situations more efficiently and successfully.

Leaders are more task, goal, and relationship oriented, whereas managers are more operations oriented. Leaders have more effective interpersonal styles, and leader-member exchanges ultimately influence employees’ behavior. Ultimate effectiveness, though, depends on appropriate leadership style.

Leaders are typically out in front. However, this does not mean they are always visible and actively involved in a function. For example, managers and supervisors can be out in front of a workgroup in terms of ideas.

  • Leaders see possibilities and potential, and develop ideas that others do not see.
  • They identify problems that have only begun to develop.
  • They plan well in order to mitigate problems for others.

The idea is to have a manager who is also a capable leader. Functionally, however, differences between the two are obvious.

Characteristically, managers who are clearly leaders are distinct from other managers. Leader-managers actively embrace these roles:

  • Visionaries: They can see the end result.
  • Risk takers: They are willing to go all out.
  • Motivators: They help inspire others with ideas or attitude.
  • Initiators of change: They help move people or ideas in a new direction.

In addition, leader-managers responsibly exhibit these qualities:

  • Provide direction: They share their ideas with colleagues.
  • Play an active role: They are not indifferent to the work or to the people performing it. They are willing to roll up their sleeves.
  • Function as part of a team: They are interactive in the process.
  • Delegate effectively: They allow others to learn and grow.

In assigning tasks or missions to others, leaders must also delegate the authority to get the job done. However, a leader cannot delegate responsibility. The leader will always be responsible for everything that happens, or fails to happen.

Managers are personally invested in their goals. Successful managers work on organization goals with an extraordinarily keen focus. They also have a strong and clear vision of what can be, should be, and will be possible in their organization.

Some managers may be more likely to do things “by the book,” where leader-managers are more willing to take calculated risks. They carefully research background, innovations, and new methods. They weigh the costs, time, physical resources, and alternatives, and they determine the degree of risk. Leader-managers are risk takers, but not without thorough research and calculation.

Leader-managers are also motivators and team players. They do not just work with people in a decision-making capacity. Rather, they inspire a sense of personal ownership in a project or process. They enable subordinates to identify with the goal, which encourages participation and positive action.

Leader-managers are not afraid to initiate change or modify outdated processes. While other managers may consider themselves regulators of the status quo, holding onto control of the project and process, leader-managers challenge systems that are subpar or are no longer adequate for the evolved scope of the organization.

Finally, leader-managers are not required to delegate authority, though they may choose to do so.

Managers’ versus Leaders’ Use of Goals

Although the assumption is that most managers lead, or are in leadership positions, a distinct difference exists between leaders and managers. Skills overlap, but their orientations toward their particular goals, work conceptions, interpersonal styles, and self-perceptions vary. Leaders typically have more authority and social influence over a group.

Where managers are usually less concerned about goals and adopt them out of necessity, leaders are more motivated and use goals as vehicles for change. Leaders attempt to shape the content of goals through their enthusiasm, vision, and motivation, thus altering employees’ attitudes.

Managers focus on strategies and negotiate making decisions. They narrow problem-solving options, resulting in normally conservative solutions. Leaders take more risks and tend to develop new solutions to old or existing problems.

Managers enjoy interpersonal relations, since their role revolves around the decision-making process. Their conversations involve critical and evaluative listening and are goal directed. Leaders’ styles, on the other hand, are more related to immediate situations, often evoking strong feelings and opinions.

Finally, managers’ self-esteem characteristically resides in social institutions, organization membership, or prestige attached to a professional organization. Leaders are not so self-consumed. However, where leaders may become impatient with mundane tasks associated with managing and, as a result, become dissatisfied with their job faster, managers may lack the daring and vision necessary to motivate employees toward a goal. Work groups are significantly affected by these actions. Thus, team performance may be enhanced by using a productive mix of leaders and managers.

Management Systems

Four types of management systems are involved in running a facility or organization:

Daily Management

  • Move straight ahead at a steady pace
  • Follow directions

Cross-Functional Management

  • Teamwork
  • Coordination

Policy Management

  • Change direction according to instruction
  • Determine exceptions

Strategic Management

  • Accommodate or create change
  • Leadership

The first three types of management systems were best described by Dr. N. Kano, professor of management science at the University of Tokyo, in an address to the American Society for Quality Control in April 1994. M. Bechtell recounted that speech in The Management Compass: Steering the Corporation Using Hoshin Planning:

[Kano] explains the relationship among policy management, daily management, and cross-functional management by comparing an organization to a ship traveling on the sea. To move straight at a steady speed, he said, “we need . . . two . . . activities: One, each department needs to fulfill its role faithfully. By this I mean the engine room, the radio room, and the deck.” Kano called this activity daily management, work to be done even if there are no specific instructions from the captain. Kano went on to say that, “inter-departmental teamwork is necessary. Even though each department performs well, without coordination the ship cannot travel straight at a steady speed. This activity is called cross-functional management.”

Performing these two activities enables the ship to move straight at a steady speed. But if the ship must change speed or direction, the activity must be enacted according to the captain’s instruction. Kano called this activity “management by policy.”

The fourth type of management system, strategic management, is managing to accommodate or create change and to foster a favorable image or perception of the change. It is in strategic management that managers and leaders cross paths. The leader identifies the direction, and the manager takes the necessary actions to allow the organization to change in order to realize the new direction and reach the new destination.

This article is adapted from BOMI International’s courses Managing the Organization and Fundamentals of Facilities Management. More information regarding these courses is available by calling 1-800-235-2664. Visit BOMI International’s website,