The difference between leaders and managers

Many an analytical mind has been put to the test to clearly define the difference between a manager and leader. In its simplest form, their key function is held within their names: managers manage, while leaders lead.

Managers establish and maintain structure, processes and systems. Leaders—in many ways—think outside the realm of these parameters. Managers have a group of people that they are in charge of. Leaders have a group of people inspired to follow them.

With these definitions, sometimes the manager comes across as a dull, mechanical character, while the leader takes the charismatic and charming role that people aspire to be. The truth is, both functions are essential to the successful running of a business.

In terms of synergy, leaders can go a long way by understanding just how important the role of a manager is, and learning to work alongside them. For managers, adopting some key elements of leadership can actually help improve their skills as a manager.

What key leadership skills can a manager adopt?

People Focused

In a way, managers often view their employees as cogs in a machine, working harmoniously to achieve a certain goal. This makes things more difficult to manage, particularly when a part of that ‘machine’ decides to resign and needs to be replaced.

A leader doesn’t tend to have this outlook, viewing people as an important resource. Good leaders are often found checking in on satisfaction and welfare of employees, and encouraging them to make their role into their own.

Managers who adopt this same line of thinking are guaranteed to experience a greater level of productivity from their workers, which naturally contributes to a company’s overall success.


An authoritarian manager-worker relationship can result in a ‘do as I say and don’t question it’ environment, while true leaders operate in the opposite way.

Leaders depend on their employee’s knowledge and, as such, don’t believe they have all of the answers. They are often eager to encourage employees to work in a way that suits them, adopting a ‘you know your job best’ attitude.

There is commonly a fear among managers that admitting to not know everything is a sign of weakness, which will result in disrespect—but that’s simply untrue. Managers will do well to maintain a level of humility, without losing their position of power and authority.

Inspire and Cultivate Growth

One key difference that sets leaders apart is their ability to inspire. It draws people to them. A manager doesn’t necessarily have to be the next creative genius, bursting with entrepreneurial ideas that will change the world, but they should recognise they have the resources at their fingertips to do so—their team.

If they are able to tap into this talent and encourage and inspire growth within their team members, they may find themselves rising up the next generation of leaders.

Leaders and managers, although different, are both quintessential roles within a business. Whether your skills naturally lend themselves to managing or leading people, you will do your role best by learning and/or understanding skills of the other.

Southern Cross University Online’s Master of Business Administration and MBA in Managing and Leading People provides students with the theory behind what it takes to both lead and manage within a business environment, and strategies to help implement that theory. Units like The Positive Leader, Organisational Behaviour and Corporate Governance for Managers offers learnings that will help bolster your skills for future management and leadership roles. Speak to an expert Student Enrolment Advisor on 1300 589 882 for more information about our Masters programs.