Are you a Leader or Manager?

Updated: Oct 3



The differences between a leader and a manager have been circulating for years now. We even started changing manager titles to have the word “leader” included. But having a title means little if you do not acquire the leadership DNA.


Are you someone that believes that a leader is born with it? If so, the person can be born with a personality that can easily echo leadership but if it is not fostered and the person continually learns what it means to be a leader, they can become authoritarian, turning into a manager. In a previous blog I spoke of ILM, infinity leadership mindset. Having ILM will automatically place you into the leadership group because you develop a sense of self-reflection and people-driven mentality.


First, let us ground ourselves on what both a leader and a manager would want to achieve. Both are responsible to drive the vision of the company, motivate their teams, and perform as a group. As William Shakespeare put it, “they set the stage” for their teams. What differs is the way they go about it.


A leader is known to think of people first and will ask questions to their teammates to create a learning environment. Better put, they will coach and mentor their teammates. They will delegate work and focus on team development. They trust their teammates have the right skillset to do the work. If the skillset falls short, then they will get the teammate trained or take the time to train them. This creates an open environment where teammates are not afraid of asking questions. As a result, the leader is a proactive thinker, cultivating their team dynamics and creating a sense of belonging. People naturally gravitate to a leader, regardless of whether they work for them or not. This is because they see someone who will back their people and be transparent. A leader's mantra is "taking care of my people will yield results". They inspire their teammates to question the status quo as much as they do so that it creates a continuous improvement mentality, this is how they have ILM in their DNA.



A manager knows that his team is there to do work and focuses on the work to be performed. They are commanding and imposing with their group, thinking of them as their employees, not their teammates. They are usually the ones that will state “I have no time for this…” and end up doing the work themselves instead of showing their employee how to do it. Delegating and training their employee takes too much time. Besides, you need to trust your employee to do it the right way and managers are less trusting. Change is not a manager’s friend who tends to maintain the status quo, ordering their team to do tasks and will sometimes even micromanage. They are the ones that will focus on the person only when a problem arises, making them reactive thinkers. They feel they are always fighting fires and tend to do less delegating which often leads to a burnout.


A leader has a growth mindset, not a fixed mindset as described famously by Dr. Carol Dweck. Similar to the SCARF™ model, when a challenge is put in front of a manager, the fixed mindset will have them avoiding the situation, giving up early, seeing that the effort is useless, ignoring feedback or support, and feeling threatened that it can all be taken away if they change their way of working. While a leader with a growth mindset will embrace the challenge, persist in growing their team even if there are setbacks, believe that taking the time to change for the better is valuable, learning from the feedback, and making the successes a team effort.


A great example is coming into a new team as their manager. Will you take the time to get to know them, learn the teammates' strengths, and develop them weaknesses? That's what a leader would do.


Or would you take some time to know them and then based on their strengths and weaknesses treat them accordingly? Meaning you will not delegate work because you do not trust they can do it. You will give up helping your team develop because there just isn't any time in the day. You are too busy doing the work you are not delegating so not to drop the ball. You assume it's useless developing someone that doesn't have the skills because you have already written them off. This is what a manager would do. Managers may be tenacious and hard workers, but this fixed mindset is stopping them from being leaders.


COVID-19 has made the difference between a leader and a manager more transparent. In a research paper I co-wrote with Rebecca Bompiedi, we looked at the resiliency of employers. Trust played a big factor in remote work. There were employers, I like to tag as having a manager mindset, that were distrusting of their employees. There were daily check-in meetings in the morning and at night. Some demanded daily time sheets or information on what tasks were done during the day. These employers found it harder to change from an inhouse to remote setting because they were too busy maintaining the status quo instead of embracing the change. Some forced their employees to work the same workday hours and monitored them through online group chats or video conferencing. The mental health came later in the pandemic when they saw that their employees were in need of support and the work performance was taking a toll.


Yet the ones who took care of their employees with mental health support and work flexibility due to home-schooling had their employees work harder, longer, and enjoyed an increase in productivity. In fact, even when salary cuts were introduced, these employees were not disgruntled with the action. This is because they trusted in their leadership to guide them through this pandemic. Our conclusion was, “Those that are succeeding have shown they can balance strategic and operational execution, make difficult decisions in a noticeably short period of time, and demonstrate exceptional connection to employees.


Going from manager to leader


There is always hope a manager decides to become a leader. If you feel overwhelmed with your work and team, then you need to step back and take a bird’s eye view of the situation. Start with baby steps.


Set aside some time in the day to change your reactive thinking paradigm. If you cannot find the time yourself, ask your manager for some time off from your daily routine so you can recalibrate your work and your team’s workload. This way you can start looking at your daily work. Conduct a time study for you and your team so you can fully understand your predicament.


Chances are there are tasks you kept that should have been delegated to your team. If you feel you are the only one that can do it right, then you are in the manager mindset. A leader will never stop their teammates from growing and learning. A way of delegating is by creating a work instruction on how the task is to be performed and then select someone from your team to train them on it. The time you take up front writing out the instruction and training the person will benefit you in the future.


Get your company to support you by paying for a coach to get you through this process. Many companies are finding that coaches are helping their employees change the culture instead of providing them with leadership training or courses. The problem with employees taking a course is that it falls short with changing their paradigm. Many go to the course, take notes on great ideas, and then go back to daily routine….and either don't have the time or forget all about implementing anything from the course.


Accountability is harder when it is up to you to make the change alone. This is why many people join the gym and get a trainer or go to the gym with a friend. Find the courage to change, the support you need, and you too can obtain the ILM mentality of a leader!


Want to learn more? Click on our Leadership series or our Inspirational stories (Anna & Dude series). Or subscribe to our site to receive our monthly bulletin with the latest articles.

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