Leader or manager… what is the difference?

The topic of leadership and management is one that is often interchanged, when they shouldn’t be. Leaders and managers are two different roles in the same organization. As a Master of Science in Strategic Leadership candidate at the University of Charleston in West Virginia and having a B.A. in Management with a concentration in leadership, this is a topic I am passionate about. Leaders and managers are different roles in an organization. A supervisor can play the role as both a manager and a leader, but it requires a great deal of balance.

Lets talk about a basic difference between the two roles. Bennis stated that “The manager focuses on systems and structures; the leaders focus on people”(Bennis, 2009). What Bennis is talking about with this quote is that the manager will focus on the organizations policies, procedures, equipment, concept and mission. The managers role is to ensure the required task are completed and all regulations are followed to prevent liability. A manager is a position ASSIGNED by the organization and for the organization.

As Bennis states “the leader focus on people” (Bennis, 2009). This is true to the word. A leader is not a position that is assigned, it is EARNED by those subordinates that choose to follow that person as a leader. A leader has less loyalty to the organization and more to their team. A leader will focus on improving, maintaining, rewarding, coaching, mentoring, guiding and benefiting the team. A leader can be an informal or formal leader depending on their position. The newest, least experience member of a team or organization can become an informal leader.

The difference is the leader is assisting and the manager is directing!

What does the organization need? An organization can be successful with just managers in place! The work environment and morale of the employees will be low, but the job will get done. With only leaders in the organization, the organization can be successful as well. Because, a leader must ensure that his team has jobs to take care of their family. There can not be a leader if there is no team! A blended organization will have the highest potential for extreme success. Having leaders, managers and people with both skills will have the best outcome on the organization and team combined. Let me give you a military example.

I was stationed in Hawaii and was the second highest ranking individual in my platoon of 35 people. The platoon sergeant was the highest. The platoon sergeant was a manager in this situation. No one in the platoon listened to him because they wanted to, it was because they had to. The platoon sergeant focused solely on mission accomplishment. He demanded everyone be where he assigned and did not care if you had medical, personal, financial issues in your life. He very much so was a leader that lived up to the sang “If the Army wanted you to have a family, they would have issued one to you.”

I as the next level down in rank took up the role as the leader! Every soldier came to me with their situation and I counseled them, gave them a plan of action and allocated the time for them to do what needed done. I was the one that answered to the platoon sergeant where they were. I knew that our platoon need a leader and I spoke with the platoon sergeant about this. I stated “If you delegate the task down to me, I will get it done because I know the issues in the soldiers’ lives. You focus on the mission and I will focus on the soldiers.” The platoon was successful because we had managers and leaders. We had balance!

Some of the key differences in the role of managers and leaders.

The next two blogs will continue the conversation on this topic. Tomorrow will be on balance and what is implied by that term. The one after that will be on emotional intelligence!

Written by: Bradley Armentrout

Date: 14 September 2019


Bennis, W. G. (2009). On Becoming a Leader (Vol. 20th anniversary ed., and updated). New York: Basic       Books. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=sso&db=nlebk&AN=267334&site=eds-live&scope=site 004d73786d6c3

Published by Bradley Armentrout

Author, Blogger, Freelancer

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