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Leadership Development, Personal Growth, Blog

What Is the Difference Between a Leader and a Manager?

Many people use “leader” and “manager” interchangeably; however, these words mean two very different things. Read on as we talk about the difference between a leader and a manager, and the benefits of thinking like a true leader.


Managers are there to tell people what to do – they assign and delegate tasks, and tell people how to complete them. Managers maintain structure in their organization by the book and aren’t as focused on creativity, collaboration, or innovation that pushes their team to grow.

A manager’s main goal is to meet organizational objectives. Because of this, they focus on planning, organizing, and controlling things and people. They place a high value on cognitive intelligence and tend to focus more on the quantitative side of work – they are task-oriented and efficiency is important to them. As long as the systems and processes they have in place are working, managers tend to stick to the status quo. 

When it comes to leadership style, many managers take a more autocratic, authoritarian approach. While this may work in some career fields, such as healthcare, law enforcement, and the military, this style isn’t extremely effective in many other workplaces. 

People who are in management positions started in a junior position and worked their way up. Because they’re typically experts at the roles they’re managing, it can become easy to micromanage instead of lead. Next, we’ll dive into what a leader is so you can see what we mean.


Leaders take a more abstract, qualitative approach when it comes to how they relate to their team. As Simon Sinek said, “Leadership is about making others feel safe.”

Leaders prioritize and are responsible for the people on their team and their growth. They seek to have a healthy, open dialogue with their team and aren’t afraid to ask for feedback – or give it in a helpful way. 

Having high emotional intelligence (EI) is important to leaders. Their focus on this skill helps them create a collaborative environment, lead with empathy, and encourage their team. This approach builds trust and strong relationships with their reports and, in turn, can enforce a positive company culture. Leaders view themselves as part of the team, rather than above and separate from it. 

Good leaders have some sort of management and organizational skills to help their team be effective, however, they have a teamwork-oriented approach. Instead of telling people exactly how they want a task completed, leaders are open to ideas and suggestions from their team. 

Leaders aren’t afraid to take risks, question the status quo, and challenge their team – they’re always looking for ways to make things better. With an approach focused on inspiring, motivating, and mentoring, it’s no surprise that people gravitate toward good leaders. Especially in today’s world, where people are prioritizing flexibility, collaboration, and growth opportunities in their job search. 

As you can see there are a lot of benefits to thinking like a leader.


The characteristics of leaders and managers can overlap; however, the main difference lies in the way they direct their teams. Both people often have the same desire: they want to effectively use their resources, achieve a goal, and motivate their team. 

Here are some key differences between leadership and management:



 Empowers their team

  Keeps the power

 Coaches and guides 

 Delegates and dictates

 Says “we”

 Says “I”

 Has a growth- and future-focused mindset

 Is focused on hitting short-term goals and checking boxes



 Cares about results 

 Cares about process and efficiency

 Takes responsibility when their team members fall short

 Places blame when things go badly

 Gives away credit when things go well 

 Takes credit for their team’s wins

 Has a vision and direction

 Has a plan and purpose

 Shows you “how”

 Tells you “what”

 Focuses on people

 Focuses on work


 Sticks to what works

 Takes risks

 Avoids risk


Leadership skills are like a muscle – the more you work on them, the stronger they get. Becoming a good leader takes patience and dedication to improve your skills. The earlier you start working on your leadership skills, the better. 

Honing your leadership skills by joining a leadership development program is a great place to start. As the only accredited leadership honor society in the nation, the National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS) develops and builds strong leaders that make a better tomorrow. 

NSLS members benefit from a wide range of exclusive leadership development opportunities and resources, all of which are designed to strengthen their leadership skills both now and throughout their careers.

Learn about the NSLS member benefits to see if the program is a good fit for you.