A Leader is not a Manager

Leadership is Not the Same as Management

A leader has a vision, a number of visions, or is creating visions – in this context a vision is an overarching idea or achievable dream.

Managers, on the other hand, plan – planning is used to enable the manager to do the job well.

Leadership is about asking the questions, ‘what’ and ‘why’ and empowering people (followers) by giving them the responsibility to do things right. 

Leaders therefore work with people and their emotions.

Managers ask, ‘how’ and work mainly with processes, models and systems – things.

One of the most famous distinctions between managers and leaders was made by Warren Bennis, a professor at the University of Southern California.

Bennis believes that “Managers do things right but leaders do the right things”.  This is down to how we think about things – if you think about doing something right you tend to think about mechanisms or ‘how-to’s’ of the task at hand: this is what a manager does.

Doing the right thing however is a much more philosophical concept and makes us think about the future, about vision and dreams: this is a trait of a leader.

Bennis goes on to compare these thoughts in more detail, the table below is based on his work:







Focuses on systems and structure

Focuses on people and emotions

Controls systems and people

Inspires people

Accepts the way things are

Challenges the way things are

Has a short-range view

Has a long-range perspective

Manages tasks

Leads people

Risky Leaders and Careful Managers

The distinction between the manager and leader is also about the risks (or perceived risks) that either will take.

Managers tend to be risk-averse whereas leaders are generally more likely to take risks, although this does not necessarily make them thrill-seekers.

Leaders are concerned with fulfilling their vision and therefore consider it natural to encounter problems and barriers that must be overcome along the way.

Leaders are generally more comfortable with risk and therefore accept that the direction needed to reach their vision is not always the easiest path.

•A leader can turn problems into opportunities and will happily break rules in order to get things done.

•Managers tend to be more focused on the status quo and will try to minimise risk.

•Managers have subordinates, people who work under them and follow the rules.

•Leaders, at least when they are leading (many are also managers), have followers.

Following is a voluntary action and is achieved, at least in part, by the charisma of the leader.

Charisma comes from excellent interpersonal skills and the understanding that you cannot always tell people what to do. It is more effective to inspire people and make them want to follow you.

Leaders often use transformational benefits as motivators for their followers, that is the belief that somehow the follower will become a better person for following.

Such motivators are very powerful, more so than more traditional work-related motivators such as money, better working conditions or other benefits.