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What’s the difference between a leader and a manager?

Adam Zuchetti
Adam Zuchetti
17 February 2017 2 minute readShare
Pawn king on a chess board

Many people consider management and leadership to be one and the same. The truth is rather different, and not understanding the distinction could be jeopardising your workforce and productivity.

As Guy Williams of The Training Guys explains, being a good manager and being a good leader involve different skill sets.

“A very simple distinction, I suppose, is that leaders have followers,” he explains.

“If you don’t actually have any followers, then I’m afraid you haven’t made the transition into the leadership side.

“You get anointed as a manager. I mean you’re almost like a dictator. You might be a very good dictator, but you haven’t been voted into it, you haven’t been elected by your team, so you’ve just shown up to work on a Monday morning and you’re now the manager or the team leader or the supervisor, whatever you want to call it.”

Problems can arise when business owners, as managers, are trying to lead their staff or trying to get them excited about the company’s future.

Pawn king on a chess board

Alternatively, it could be employees within a business promoted to a management position which requires a different set of skills to the ones they have.

“You’ve now got these people who on the Friday may well have been your colleagues, so on the Friday it would be us and them, on the Friday you were part of the us, and then on the Monday when you come in, you are now part of the them, and that transition can be hard sometimes,” Guy says.

“Now they’re the manager and they’ve got certain responsibilities associated with that. Are they going to transition into being a leader? Well, time will tell. Some of them do and some of them don’t.”

While a manager is someone who manages people and operations at a routine level, a leader is somebody who works on the bigger picture and future direction of the team or the business as a whole.

“Leaders are working on the bigger strategic vision … managers tend to get more into the day-to-day, and I think the hard part is that the managers are expected to do a bit of both,” Guy says.

Having separated the two as distinct skill sets, it begs the question: can you be both a manager and a leader?

“I think you can [but] it’s hard to do, because I think you get sucked into the day-to-day – you get sucked into the curse of busyness,” Guy says.

“If you’re going to be creative and innovative and strategic, I’m not sure how much of that happens while you’re sitting at your desk.

“I love being out in the bush, I love running, I love walking, and I often find that I’m in that environment, I will get strategic vision and thoughts coming to me. Sitting at my desk, not so much.”

Hear more insights from Guy on management and leadership, how to get the most out of your employees and maximising your own time efficiencies on the My Business Podcast now!

What’s the difference between a leader and a manager?
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Adam Zuchetti
Adam Zuchetti

Adam Zuchetti is the former editor of MyBusiness and a senior freelance media professional, specialising in the fields of business, personal finance and property. In 2020, he also embarked on his own business journey – inspired in part by the entrepreneurs and founders he had met through his journalistic work – with the launch of customised pet gifting and subscription service Paws N’ All.

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