Be a Leader, Not a Manager: 5 Key Differences

Published by Win Advisors on

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The difference between a manager and a leader is subtle yet consequential.

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In the 1980s, during the outbreak of HIV and AIDS, people believed that you could catch the virus through physical contact or even by sitting on the same toilet seat. Patients were shunned. When Princess Diana opened the first unit dedicated to treating HIV and AIDS patients in the UK, she shook hands with a patient without wearing gloves, changing people’s perception of the disease (Roffey Park Institute, 2021). By taking that first step, she exhibited one of the hallmark characteristics of a leader, their willingness to venture into the unknown and lead by example. In contrast, managers ensure the job gets done rather than showing how it is done.

The difference between a manager and a leader is subtle yet consequential. Managers may prefer a top-down approach and this may hinder employees’ growth and those who wish to think out of the box. Leaders, on the other hand, have a longer-lasting impact. They encourage employees to be not just task-driven but also constantly strive to improve. Furthermore, leadership fosters healthier relationships and keeps employees motivated.

If you wish to attract and retain talent, it is important to be a leader rather than a manager. Here are five key differences between a leader and a manager, and how you can strive to be a better leader.

1. Garner Respect, Not Obedience

A manager may demand obedience in employees. Although this will get the job done, employees do not have the opportunity to value-add to the team. This is especially when things have conventionally been carried out in a certain way, without evaluating if there is a more efficient way of doing things.

Instead of garnering obedience from employees, a good leader will earn their respect. Leaders in the workplace may work just as hard, if not harder, than the team they lead to show that they are in this together. Respect is also earned when leaders remain humble and open to learning. It is also important to be respectful when communicating – conveying what to say in a respectful tone will go a long way.

2. Empower, Not Control

Managers are likely to assert control over the way employees carry out their work. For instance, employees may only be allowed to make a decision when the bosses have approved. However, a top-down approach is not always the best way to lead, especially in the long run. Some guidance at the start is valuable for newcomers. However, if employees are constantly being micromanaged, not only is it a tedious process for the manager but also inefficient for the employees when they have to seek approval for everything. As a result, they will have less time to complete their work.

Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Even if you hire the best talent, you must be careful not to control them and give them sufficient autonomy and trust to carry out their work. This creates a psychological sense of safety and mutual respect. Furthermore, working together allows your employees to generate more ideas to innovate.

3. Do The Right Things, Not Do Things Right

Although it is important to have a plan, a good leader must strike the right balance between sticking to the plan and seizing opportunities. Certain situations require one to think on their feet and act on the spot, and if employees have to wait for instructions, some opportunities may be lost.

One way to ensure flexibility is to delegate. You may be concerned that delegating looks bad on you as leader as if you are incapable of completing the tasks or not serious about your work. A leader needs to pick the right person for the job and set a clear scope for their responsibilities. You must also know how to articulate clearly, and ensure that sufficient resources are available to the team.

4. Solve, Not Blame

To be a good leader, you must strive to solve rather than blame. A key difference between leaders and managers is that leaders are people-focused, while managers are more work-focused. Managers may also tend to put themselves first, shifting the blame to others when things go wrong and taking the credit when things go well.

To be a better leader, try putting yourself in the shoes of others before blaming, and accept responsibility where necessary. Think about how to solve the problem together, rather than who to blame for the problem.

5. Learn From Failure, Not Punish

Mistakes are bound to happen, but what distinguishes a leader from a manager is how they handle it. A manager may instil fear, while a leader may see it as an opportunity to learn and sparks enthusiasm. A manager may also drive an employee to be better while a leader coaches employees.

John C. Maxwell once said, “A good leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.” During times of failure, a good leader will stand up and lead the team to work on the best possible solution together.

Are You A Thermometer Or A Thermostat?

To conclude, we may consider the analogy of the thermometer and the thermostat. A manager is like a thermometer who measures and tracks the progress of the team, while a leader is like a thermostat who is able to influence their environment and enact change (Exceptional Leaders Lab, n.d.). Are you a thermometer or a thermostat?

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