Are you a leader or a manager?  Are you both or neither?  Do you know the difference?  I am asked this question a lot and it took me some time and experience to really understand the differences between a leader vs manager.  To be sure, it is important to know.  First, you will be immensely more effective in getting your direct reports to accomplish your vision if you understand the differences.  Second, honing your leadership attributes will enable you to become an influencer within your organization.  Third, you can teach others.  Know what it means to be a leader vs manager.  This enables you to pass that information on, so others can learn to shape the company moving forward.  Let’s start with the definition of each.

What is a Leader?

The United States Army is well adept at creating some of the best leaders in the world.  It defines leadership as the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.[1]  A leader influences others to accomplish the goals of the organization. Leaders motivate and inspire the people within their sphere of influence.

What is a Manager?

A manager forecasts and controls resources, from budgets to people. Management is all about ensuring those resources accomplish the task at hand.  Managers are task-oriented and will do what is necessary to get them done.

Now that we understand the definition of a leader and manager, let’s look at the key differences of each.

Leaders Establish a Vision

Leaders establish a vision for change and growth.  They continually push their employees and the organization to not accept the status quo.  They encourage creative solutions to problems in order to meet the vision.  Key to establishing and communicating an effective vision is ensuring your team understands what the end result looks like.  Managers, on the other hand, are concerned with the task at hand.  What is the immediate problem and how can we solve it?  A manager answers that as efficiently as possible, but no thought is given to how the solution contributes to the strategic mission.

Leaders are Perpetual Students

Leaders continually evaluate themselves and find avenues to improve.  They do not accept that they have learned everything they need to know.  First, leaders search for opportunities for personal and professional development.  Then, they encourage their employees to do the same.  Managers, on the other hand, are more concerned with doing whatever it takes to accomplish the required tasks.  They are not concerned with constant self-evaluation because it is not necessary to control their resources in response to problems or short-term goals.

Leaders Focus on the Individual

Leaders focus on developing people.  They do have a strategic vision, but understand it cannot be accomplished without motivated, trusted, inspired team members, committed to growth.  Managers focus on tasks.  Leaders ask how their team is growing.  Are they stressed?  Is the team motivated?  Have team members come together for common goals?

Leaders Build Trust

Successful leaders encourage a climate of mutual trust. This is extremely important because when trust is present, individuals are willing to accept influence. Trust does not occur overnight. It takes time to develop confidence in someone else’s abilities and gain the mutual respect necessary to promote trust.  In order to build trust, leaders create a positive work environment and show genuine care for their employees.  Managers don’t focus on trust.  Managers ensure their resources are effectively used to accomplish the job at hand.  For a manager, trust isn’t necessary.

Leaders Lead With Empathy

Empathy is the ability of someone to understand the feelings of another from their perspective. To be truly empathetic, leaders share their feelings as though they are your own. This is absolutely important because leaders cannot hope to inspire and motivate others until they understand them. If leaders don’t truly understand what their employees are feeling, how can they possibly hope to influence those feelings? The ability to influence the feelings of others is the foundation for motivating them to accomplish the vision.  Managers are not empathetic because they don’t need to be.  To manage a resource, you don’t need to understand it.

So What?

These differences illustrate how leaders focus on intangible results that lead to very tangible long-term developments.  Managers don’t focus on their people because it’s not required to complete the task.  However, this is very short-sighted.  In order to set your department up for long-term success, learn to lead.

Anyone can lead.  It is a learned skill, but must be practiced and perfected.  Join me as we learn how to develop as leaders together.  I have spent many years learning as an Army officer and developing other officers to lead.  I continue to learn every day and I will pass on everything I know through Learning FM.

What do you think are the most important leadership attributes?  Leave a comment below or email me at  I look forward to hearing from you.

[1] Department of the Army. “Leadership.” August 1, 2012. ADP 6-22: 1.