Do You Know the Difference Between Manager & Leader? Really?



In my first job in a management role, in 1997, as a production supervisor in a big engine manufacturer, my challenge was not just startup production in a new global and competitive environment, but at the same time, startup my own management career, and like me in that time, you probably heard about the advice: anyone can be a manager, you have to be a good leader!

 Seriously? Anyone can be a manager?

A Manager is a critical and a very important role to be played in the business scenarios and requires some specific competences for doing a good job. So, let’s understand what really means management and leadership. After over 13 years managing people in the industrial environment made me reflect deeply about the real meaning of being a manager or a leader. Even though I have already read uncountable articles and books about management and leadership, I got a conclusion that there is too much confusion when people try to explain both iconic words. Try to search on internet right now and you will see all kind of explanations and lists of differences between one and another. Some people say that the manager does not lead, does not motivate, does not innovate, and some other crazy and funny things like that. Sometimes you can find leadership defined as a behavior, which is not, or some natural gift, which is not, and even some supernatural power, which is not.

Leadership is a competence! Even though I agree that some people can easily than others to perform leadership, it is just a competence. Remember that competence is a cluster of skill, knowledge and attitude to perform in the proper way anything. So, as a competence, leadership can be trained and developed. Additionally, leadership can be a role, a job position, like a “leader of production”, “leader of maintenance”, etc. In this case, as a job position, even though it is just a name, to play the role it is needed, of course, the leadership competence.

So, what is the difference between Manager and Leader? The answer is: every manager is also a leader, but not every leader is also a manager. This means that leadership is one of the main competences a manager must have in order to play its role. Instead, management is not a main competence a leader must have in order to play its role. I believe anyone who has been in charge of any management position can easily understand that. It’s virtually impossible to admit a manager playing his role, planning and organizing, improving processes; guiding people; leading meetings and projects, without the leadership competence.


The main competences that a manager must have:

  1. Effective Time Management: Capacity of identifying the priorities and act to execute them.
  2. Establishment of Goals: Capacity for setting proper and well established goals.
  3. Organization: Capacity of structuring things, processes and people.
  4. Empowerment: Empowering people brings responsibility, and responsibility can energize people. Just be aware that it is crucial for good results to empower according to the competences of each team member.
  5. Effective Team Evaluation: Capacity of evaluate people’s competences and results, pointing the good ones and the others that has to be developed.
  6. Team Competence Development: Capacity of developing and improving the skills, knowledge and attitude of their team, through mentoring, coaching and training.
  7. Leadership: A set of competences needed for a leader.
  8. Critical Analysis: Capacity of understanding and judging results, things and situations.
  9. Continuous Improvement: Capacity for finding ways to keep improving processes and people.
  10. Planning: Capacity for developing a systematic method for designing future actions.
  11. Overview of the Organizational Processes: Capacity of understanding of the main processes of the Organization in the macro view.
  12. Detailed View of the Managed Processes: Capacity of understanding in details the processes that you manage.

The following are the set of main competences for a leader:

  1. Team Motivation: Capacity of keeping and improving the morale and energy of the team.
  2. Emotional Balance: Capacity of reacting wisely and dominating emotions.
  3. Positive Vision of the Future: Capacity for showing the belief that the way is right and the future will be better.
  4. Fairness: This includes lead by example, be consistent with your speech and take over your mistakes. The leader establishes relationships of trust and transparency.
  5. Initiative: Capacity of initiating something.
  6. Learning from Mistakes: Every mistake brings with it a learning experience. The mistake has to be analyzed in order to understand what must be done to correct it and to not repeat it. This is the path to the culture of the Learning Organization.
  7. Good Communication: Capacity for clear, nice and assertive communication.
  8. Results Orientation: Capacity of focusing on the results of the processes.
  9. Risky Decision Making: Be prepared to make decisions and take risks.
  10. Creativity: Capacity of creating ideas and meaningful new solutions.

A manager will always be a leader, but the opposite is not necessarily true. As I said, if you have already had the experience in a management position, it’s easy to understand what I am saying. If not, think about the managers that you have already known, and very likely you will agree that they had very well developed the competences I have described here, at least the good ones you have met. It’s important to say that the list of competences I am showing here is not intended to be complete or sufficient, I just consider it the most important. The main point to focus on is that a leadership (the set of competences listed) is basically the only competence for a leader, but is one of the most important for a manager.

If I go back to that period in my life, when I was an assembly line supervisor, I see me using and developing all the competences needed for a manager that I listed here, including leadership. On the other hand, the assembly line leader that worked for me did not have to show the same competences, only the leadership ones. Which means, do not conceive a manager without a leadership competence, because it’s really needed for playing the role. After over 20 years working in the industrial environment I definitely can say, there is no real manager without leadership.