The difference between a leader and a manager is frequently the subject of much debate. If you’ve categorized yourself as one vs. the other, you’ve likely been influenced by specific definitions you’ve read and the ones you prefer.

I wrote about this in my last post. According to business executive and philanthropist Vineet Nayar, in a 2013 Harvard Business Review article, “Three Differences Between Managers and Leaders,” mindset is the primary distinction.

Your mindset influences your purpose and focus. The purpose behind your actions defines your legacy. Each of us has a purpose, regardless of whether it’s fully recognized, and it manifests as specific priorities, or areas of focus.

Leader vs. Manager: Differences in Purpose

An old adage applies:

  • A leader makes use of the organization to benefit people.
  • A manager makes use of people to benefit the organization.

Other views are more specific:

  • A leader is driven by a purpose higher than self.
  • A manager is driven by an immediate purpose, revolving around self.
  • A leader sets the vision by encouraging ideas.
  • A manager executes a vision by assigning work.

Nayar prefers the following distinctions:

  • A leader creates value by empowering people, making them better and helping to add to the value.
  • A manager counts value by tracking tasks, checking boxes and expecting others to add value.
  • A leader achieves success with
  • A manager accomplishes a goal through

Alan Murray, author of The Wall Street Journal Essential Guide to Management (HarperBusiness, 2010), offers another view:

  • Leaders inspire, motivate and develop.
  • Managers plan, organize and maintain.

Leader vs. Manager: Differences in Focus

Focus describes areas of concern and targeted centers of attention. Your focus reveals what’s important to you and, by default, what’s not as important. Factors that influence focus include your qualifications, experience, fears, opinions and priorities.

The following distinctions apply to managerial vs. leadership focus:

  • Leaders tend to have a longer-range outlook, looking for future paybacks.
  • Managers tend to be more short-term oriented, looking for quicker paybacks.
  • Leaders want to develop others’ skills.
  • Managers make use of others’ skills.
  • Leaders focus on people and possibilities.
  • Managers focus on systems and procedures.
  • Leaders are keyed into unity.
  • Managers are keyed into efficiency.

What do you think? Are the differences this distinct? If so, is your purpose similar to a leader, or a manager? What about your focus? I’d love to hear from you. You can call me at 561-582-6060; let’s talk. And as always, I can be reached here or on LinkedIn.

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