Leader vs. Manager — What are the Key Differences For Success?

BY C. Lee Smith
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Are you developing both leaders and managers in your organization? A successful company should have team members working effectively in these roles. But what are the differences between leaders vs. managers? And what can you do to help employees who work in these roles?

Leader vs. Manager

Definitions of a manager center around getting key tasks done in an organization. Managers make assignments, provide feedback and deliver encouragement and guidance to employees on their teams. They may also identify which employees are best suited to specific tasks based on psychometric assessment results. And to maintain loyalty, the best managers watch out for their team members. They help them plan a career path and develop assignments to assist them in reaching their goals.

Leaders, on the other hand, are innovators. They identify an opportunity or develop a vision for success. In doing so, they often motivate and inspire their team members and employees to work toward achieving goals. Leaders are the public face of a company. While envisioning change, they may also inspire prospects and customers to buy into their philosophy. One of our most visionary leaders in recent times was the late Steve Jobs, the co-​founder of Apple. While he wasn’t an easy person to work for, he didn’t yield in his commitment to product excellence and ease-​of-​use. And that commitment led to one of the most successful companies in history.

Improving Your Managers

Managers have great power over whether an employee stays with or leaves an organization. Managers may be overwhelmed in their current position or lack training. But those details don’t matter to employees who look to their supervisor for help. Motivating team members (35%), holding efficient meetings (35%) and lack of timely responsiveness (34%) are the factors where most sales professionals want to see managerial improvement according to our research. Have your managers had sufficient training in these areas? Keep in mind that managing vs. leading are two different organizational needs.

When an employee first moves into a manager role, they may become a team leader. It’s important for them to understand the difference between team lead vs. manager. A team lead may focus on helping one or two employees reach their unique goals or the team goals. The manager may oversee several team leaders and work with them, assigning tasks that will help all employees in the department work toward reaching goals.

Improving Your Leaders

Experts have long debated whether leaders are born or made. Research has shown that some individuals may possess traits that make them more inclined to be natural leaders. In total, experts say about 30% of leadership traits are genetic. That means the other 70% of what contributes to being an effective leader can be learned. Because the impact of a leader centers around their ability to influence others, their training and development must take those details into account.

It’s possible to develop leaders. If these team members are transitioning from a management role, they’ll need to adjust the way they spend their time. Some of these employees may naturally gravitate toward focusing on areas where they want to lead change. Identifying a few specific goals and conducting an “energy audit” can help emerging leaders better allocate their time, recommends Sanjay Khosla, a leadership coach and former CEO.

Beyond that, your emerging leaders may need additional skill development. The ability to communicate effectively, especially in a team setting, is key. Training programs can help leaders polish those skills. And leaders can use resources, such as the results of psychometric assessments, to learn how to communicate with team members who might have a different style.

In addition, leaders must hone their problem-​solving and decision-​making abilities. In a training environment, they can learn to identify their behavioral patterns, such as putting off decisions for too long or collecting unnecessary information, that they should change. With practice, their leadership skills will improve.

As you focus on upgrading the skills of team members, remember the differences of leaders vs. managers. The best organizations have great people in these roles. In some instances, an employee can be both a great leader and an excellent manager. The best managers also “demonstrate leadership qualities.” And that nearly always has to do with showing compassion and kindness, along with sharing a vision.