Manager vs Leader

What is the Difference Between a Manager and a Leader?


People usually interchange leadership with management and manager with leader in their conversations. However, these are two distinct concepts, especially when we consider the roles and behaviours expected of leaders and managers.

If an organisation wishes to benefit from both processes, it is vital to understand the differences between leading and managing. Leadership and management differ, which means that a leader and a manager have different responsibilities. Let’s delve into the differences between the roles of a leader and a manager, and look at the four leadership approaches or styles: transactional, transformational, action-focused and situational.

Which is a leader and which is a manager?

Natural born leaders inspire and influence their followers to achieve a common mission. As a group leader, you ensure that the members of your team are motivated to work towards achieving the common purpose or goal.

Meanwhile, a manager oversees the operation of an organisation and ensures that its members are working efficiently towards achieving a set goal. The manager, therefore, controls the use and allocation of resources to the greatest extent possible.

Leaders will prioritise winning people’s support over completing tasks, while managers will focus on completing tasks, even if it means coercing them. Managers try to compel people to work by using both positive and negative reinforcement, much like a leader tries to inspire people.

Then, how is leadership different from management?

The concept of leadership is viewed differently by practitioners and academics.

Leadership refers to the act of motivating, influencing, and inspiring others. People, funding, and technology must be allocated appropriately in order to achieve this goal. Leaders should execute their duties in a way that inspires the followers to work as they should. For followers to be inspired, their needs and values must be met.

Providing leadership means aligning employees’ goals to that of the organisation. Occasionally, these goals conflict. As an example, employees may push for salary increases, while the company is focused on cutting costs to save money and invest in long-term projects.

A leader has to negotiate with followers in order to strike a balance between conflicting goals. Negotiating in this way will enable followers to find hope that their needs will be met and their goals reached more easily when they prioritise the organisation’s goals in the short term. If followers (employees) believe in their leader, this will work. Leadership, then, involves performing certain duties to further the mission:

  • Establishing performance objectives.
  • Determining the steps necessary to achieve the set objectives.
  • Delegating work to individuals according to their roles.
  • Assigning resources to each individual for the completion of assigned tasks.
  • Monitoring individuals to ensure assigned tasks are completed as planned, and taking corrective actions when deviations are unacceptable.
  • Recognising and rewarding positive performance and encouraging improvement.
  • Checking whether the objectives are still appropriate in the current environment.
  • Facilitating any necessary changes.
  • Evaluating overall performance: determining whether goals were achieved and making appropriate decisions. This constitutes a control and feedback system.

What leadership styles or approaches can be used?

There are several ways in which leaders can accomplish the above tasks. A situational leader, for example, is an autocrat when tight controls are required, but a democratic leader when there is room to deviate from set objectives. This approach allows a leader to simultaneously manage and lead, depending on the situation.

Under continuity theory, one should apply a leadership style or approach that most effectively serves the current situation.

A leader who practises transactional leadership sees the role he or she plays as an opportunity to reward their followers; it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Motivating followers through financial incentives or public praise is a common way to motivate them. Leadership that involves transactional relationships involves a give-and-take relationship between a leader and his followers.

It may be possible to promote a follower in return for loyalty.

Since transactional leaders punish and reward employees to manage employee behaviour, they act more like managers. This is why transactional leadership has been called managerial leadership. Transactional leadership reinforces resistance to change. On the contrary, transformational leadership works against the status quo. A transformational leader puts people first while a transactional leader is task driven.

This people-centeredness consists of four is:

  • Individual consideration. Followers are valued and their goals are encouraged, making the leader into an employee coach.
  • Inspirational motivation. Motivational leaders inspire followers to work on achieving the organisation’s mission and vision.
  • Idealised influence. In the workplace, these leaders gain credibility and respect as role models.
  • Intellectual stimulation. Leaders have the ability to enhance followers’ creative abilities by challenging long-held beliefs and allowing them to exercise independent thinking.

In order to motivate and influence teams, transformational leaders value their followers’ goals in addition to their own. Innovation and creativity come naturally to them as a result.

A leader can use both approaches depending on the situation, since transactional leadership is especially good at developing people and improving organisational performance. These two concepts are consistent with contingency theory.

Ultimately, an effective leader’s leadership style is driven by the situation at hand. However, their traits and personalities and the tasks at hand also play a pivotal role in their behaviours.

John Adair’s action-centred approach looks at three needs:

  1. Task needs—tasks to be carried out, such as setting goals and controlling deviations.
  2. Individual needs—that which enables the individual to perform as expected.
  3. Group needs—that which makes a group function as a team.

So, what is management?

Since a transactional leader is prone to controlling tendencies, this leadership style is also called managerial leadership. Management involves controlling employees’ behaviour and actions to accomplish goals. A manager must perform “POCD” functions to reach that level of control:

Planning — Setting goals to accomplish the mission.

Organising — Identifying tasks, assigning them to individuals, and allocating resources.

Controlling — Observing the actions of individuals and making appropriate decisions when needed.

Directing — Ensuring that all members of the organisation work together to achieve the assigned objectives. This is already listed under leadership.

Hence, management differs from leadership in its approach, as shown in table 1.

Table 1: Management vs Leadership

FunctionLeadership (a leader…)Management (a manager…)
PlanningDefines goals to achieve a vision and mission. Not waiting to see goals achieved.Sets goals, outlines a vision and mission and ensures they are carried out.
Initiates change.Maintains the status quo.
OrganisingDevelops tasks, assigns them to individuals, and allocates resources according to the needs of people: everything is people centred.Develops tasks, assigns them to individuals, assigns resources, and prioritises them: everything is task oriented.
Focus leads to effectiveness.Efficiency is paramount.
ControllingControls individuals’ actions and performance and takes corrective action as needed.Maintains accountability for individual actions/performances

Based on table 1, we can deduce that a leader is someone who influences people and gets them to work toward a planned future stated as mission and objectives, while a manager is someone who ensures that current operations follow planned procedures to achieve stated goals. A manager must lead, while a leader must manage, if an organisation is to compete and improve performance. Each role is crucial to the current conditions.

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