What’s the difference between a manager and a leader? Years ago I found myself asking the same exact question. In all of my experience in hotel management and traditional schooling, I had never even known that there was a difference between the two. It wasn’t until someone on my team said to me, “Mary, I don’t want to be managed; I want to be led,” that I realized that they weren’t the same thing. While it would take me years to fully understand the distinction, a tiny seed was planted in me that day.
The truth is you can be a manager in your organization, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a leader.
So what exactly is the difference between being a leader and a manager? John Maxwell teaches that the law of leadership is influence; nothing more, nothing less. Essentially, leadership requires the ability to influence people and that is the key distinction that separates this quality from management.
Management is very systematic, relying on formulas, procedures, and processes to achieve a goal, often overseeing every step to ensure a successful outcome. While that isn’t necessarily bad in some instances, leadership expands upon human potential and influences others to reach the goal without giving them every specific step needed to accomplish it. Leading allows for individuality, risk, creativity, and ownership which increases not only the success of the team, but the satisfaction of each individual.
On top of all of this, leadership just feels better all around. I recall the days when I would manage a team and it felt difficult, almost like I had to push hard to get things to happen. I always had to oversee tasks and figure out how to stay on track as well as get people to do things consistently over and over again. It was exhausting and I was under a lot of pressure to ensure that the desired outcome was achieved. If it wasn’t, there was no one to blame except the manager — me.
As a leader, however, you’re not exactly pushing people; you’re motivating them. You’re standing on the front lines with them, sharing your vision. and encouraging them to achieve it with you. You’re allowing them to buy into the dream, take ownership, and make decisions for themselves. As the leader, you’re able to guide, coach, and celebrate with them which creates a much better environment for everyone, including yourself, to work in.
With all the key differences aforementioned, the single greatest distinction between management and leadership, simply put, is this: Management is thinking for people. Leadership is allowing people to think for themselves.
If you’re looking to level-up your leadership skills, then I encourage you to take my Leadership Circles for Women mastermind! This weekly virtual group mastermind is for working women who aspire to become transformational leaders at all levels of their organizations or for women who want to brush up on their skills and increase their confidence before re-entering the workforce. Inside, you’ll learn leadership skills that will improve your ability to inspire, influence, and steer your people to success!
In closing, if you want to experience more joy, more fun, and more of an impact through your company, then being a great leader is something you’ll absolutely want to strive towards becoming. Life is so much more enjoyable when you see others being raised up.
How could strong leadership impact your organization?