Leader vs. manager: which hat fits you best?

When it comes to your administrative skills (and style), knowing which hat you’re wearing, and which fits you best, determines how well you lead people.

You see, administrators have the greatest impact on employees’ careers and well-being; they determine whether employees enjoy or detest what they do. They’re also responsible for the organization’s prosperity.

So it’s important to recognize the conspicuous and more nuanced differences and similarities between leaders and managers.

This has been the frequent focus of recent conversations with my coaching clients. The definitions are far from straightforward, and they’re 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. You’ll rarely be told what others make of your administrative style; ultimately, your self-assessment determines how you lead people.

Any complex comparison reveals a definite overlap between leaders and managers. Both have people to oversee. Both want to make a difference and be successful, as guided by their definition of success. Each will deal with ups and downs, with people who are helpful and those who obstruct progress. Many leaders and managers assume their roles without much formal training or preparation. Though some common ground exists, there are numerous dissimilarities.

Consider this:

Leaders are people who do the right thing. Managers are people who do things right.

~ Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith in Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader (Basic Books, 2003).


To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion. The distinction is crucial.

~ Henry Mintzberg, Simply Managing: What Managers Do—and Can Do Better (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013)

Mindset is the primary distinction, business executive and philanthropist Vineet Nayar states in a 2013 Harvard Business Review article, “Three Differences Between Managers and Leaders.”  The way you tackle administration helps decide whether you lead or manage.

What do you think? What hat are you wearing? Which fits you best? 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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