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When aliens land on earth in the movies they never say, "take me to your manager." But why not manager? Aren't leader and manager synonyms? I mean, my boss leads my department, so she must be my leader. Just what exactly is the difference?

In an ideal situation managers are leaders. But when it's not, here are five differences between a manager and a leader.

1) Managers Manage the Tasks at Hand. Leaders Lead Towards the Future.

Managers are focused on getting the current job done. That's fine—it needs to get done. But a leader is looking at the big picture. He or she asks the tough questions, such as: How does this task lead towards the quarter's goals? How does this fit into the company's overall plan? How does this help prepare the employees for their future career goals?

2) Managers Supervise People or Tasks. Leaders can be Individual Contributors.

There are people managers and project managers. Each has a defined set of responsibilities. Sometimes a leader doesn't have a big title, and it's just the person that everyone looks up to for guidance and direction to be an individual contributor. This person embodies leadership and people naturally follow. This is the type of person to watch out for and promote to management.

3) Leader's Guide People Towards Success. Managers Tell People What to Do.

If you're a checklist type of a manager, you're probably not a leader. Check boxes aren't bad—they aren't. But, if all you can do is tell people to check off boxes, it's not leadership. A leader inspires and supports other people to succeed, and sometimes that involves individual tasks and sometimes it involves letting things evolve on their own.

4) Leaders Are Willing to Give up control. Managers Set Directions for Everything.

When a direct report becomes too proficient, it can send ill-equipped managers into a frenzy. Leaders rejoice and recognize that this person is ready for more responsibility and a possible promotion. Managers may be tempted to keep their tasks and their projects close at hand. Leaders recognize when someone is ready to take on new responsibilities and rejoices in that.

5) Leaders Care About the People. Managers Care About the Numbers.

Numbers are important—anyone who tells you otherwise is off his rocker. However, they aren't the only thing that matters. A manager might bark at a slow moving worker to pick up the pace, but a leader will ask if there is a problem and offer a solution. Both leaders and managers may end up firing an employee who can't pull it together, but a leader will try to resolve the issue first.

Resolving a problem is often a more difficult task than firing an employee. Ignoring a it doesn't make it go away and will likely encourage your best employees to quit. Managers focus on hitting targets, while leaders see if their team is solid and if there are problems brewing.

If you're a manager—whether it's of a project or people—stop and take a look at how you conduct yourself. Are you acting as a true leader, or simply as a manager? Make sure it's the former.

Photo: Twenty20