Leaders and Managers Aren’t the Same Person (And That’s Okay)

Everyone who’s ever had a job can tell you the obvious: a leader is not always a manager, and a manager is not always a leader.  In the world of startups we consolidate these roles, but despite the best efforts to straddle both lines, some people just aren’t programmed to actively take control of a situation and push it to new boundaries as opposed to keeping the ship running.  

Leadership vs. management is often one of those “left side vs. right side of the brain” discussions. The implied skills for leaders and managers are not the same, and that’s not a bad thing. In actuality, every business needs both kinds of people to keep moving, and rarely does someone exhibit both ways of thinking successfully.

Without a manager keeping the trains running on time, many businesses would fail. While leaders are great at building ideas or inspiring the staff, it’s up to the manager to get the job done every day. Leaders build enthusiasm. They motivate people to adopt the company’s vision as their own by telling stories and giving encouragement. Managers outline and distribute the tasks needed to accomplish that vision.

While leaders and managers often have different traits, those traits are not fixed. In other words, leadership and managerial positions are roles that people can learn and grow into. Just because your approach currently resembles that of a manager, doesn’t mean you don’t have potential to be a leader, and vice versa.

While leaders and managers often share the same vision, their approaches and leadership styles differ. We’ve outlined how leaders and managers are different, but are equally important.

Leaders Play By Their Own Rules Manager’s Play By The Rules

Leaders stand out, they’re always willing to lay on the sword for their beliefs, and they’re self-aware. They’re married to the brand and are transparent. Managers toe the line for the company’s best interests, but also make sure things are continually moving forward.

Trust vs. Control

A manager has to make sure the team is on board; they keep the harmony and ensure things are moving smoothly. The manager offers critical feedback to improve and make the team better, while the leader takes more risks. Leaders favor uncharted waters, which requires absolute trust.

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Leaders Want Change, Managers Want Stability

Leaders focus on the bigger picture of building the business. They are always looking for ways to be more innovative and take the brand to the next level. Leaders remain focused on growth long-term, while managers seek shorter term goals to achieve that growth.

Leaders Think About Capability, Managers Think About Results

Leaders think about their team as a means to execute goals and focus on people who’ll push the boundaries of what’s possible. They build a collection of stakeholders who’ll be just as invested as they are. Managers focus on processes and structures, ensuring the analytics are in place for success and ready to share with leadership.

Leaders Inspire, While Managers Manage

With a rousing speech, a leader can get their team to work harder and stay longer. Part of their role is to inspire people to go beyond what they thought was capable. Managers also want their staff to do their best work, but want them to follow the processes set in place to maximize returns and to push the brand’s vision by the goals set. 

Leaders Aren’t As Good At Managing

A manager can see who is their All-Star staff member because they pay attention to the work. They know who’s performing, and who isn’t. A leader looks at raw data and makes choices based off of big picture ideation, not an actual analysis of knowing the team’s habits.

Many small business owners walk the line between the two modes of thought. But, as a company grows, it needs both a visionary leader and an implementer manager. Leaders with strong vision traits frequently fail because they can’t execute on the vision. Conversely, managers frequently fail because they don’t move forward fast enough. They fail to adopt new technologies and techniques.  

In the world of startups, success is measured by execution of vision. You need both to win, so if you are a strong leader, go find your strong manager and hit the gas.

Do you have experience with a leader or a manager that transcends this list? Or a story we need to hear? We’d love to connect. Drop us a line and let’s talk. We love knowing what the ScaleFactor community is up to. And as always, for everything else, check out the ScaleFactor blog.

Reader Interactions


  1. John C. gautreau, ii says

    Good Job, leaders are people others will follow by their own choice, plain and simple.

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