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7 Key Differences Between Managers and Leaders

Many human resources experts say that they are searching for leaders rather than managers these days. Why is that? Aren’t leaders and managers basically the same thing? Not really. In a book excerpted in the Wall Street Journal, Alan Murray explains that while leadership and management often go hand-in-hand, today’s knowledge economy requires the inspiration and purpose-driven vision that can only come from true leaders, not just efficiency-focused managers.

So what separates a leader from a manager?

Here are seven key differences between managers and leaders and why they matter:
1. Managers emphasize process; leaders emphasize people.

Managers are most interested in getting the job done as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. When they think about developing their staff, they think in terms of helping the team become more productive. Leaders, on the other hand, are able to inspire their team to achieve their best by nurturing creativity and encouraging innovation. Their more hands-off approach generates new ideas that grow businesses exponentially rather than incrementally.

2. Managers react; leaders plan.

As described in Inc. magazine, managers tend to blindly follow instructions, deviating from their marching orders only when there are unexpected bad (or good) results. Leaders think things through in advance and are therefore prepared with contingency plans for whatever lies ahead. This quality is what helps leaders generate trust among their followers, while managers must use systems to control their employees.

3. Managers shift the blame; leaders accept the blame.

Managers are good at passing the buck. They are experts at devising reasons that, say, a drop in sales is a result of external forces outside their control. Leaders don’t do that. They know that the buck stops with them. If their team loses an account, they acknowledge the failure and work to win it back or find a new one. They are quick to praise when things go well, but even quicker to accept responsibility when things don’t go well.

4. Managers reward work; leaders reward results.

In describing the differences between managers and leaders in the Harvard Business Review, Vineet Nayar explains that manager who constantly asks for reports, like a boss who requires a diamond cutter to report every 15 minutes how many stones he has cut, is actually subtracting value from the process with constant distractions. Leaders step aside, helping to establish a vision of what needs to be done, but not micromanaging each task.

5. Managers appeal to your head; leaders appeal to your heart.

Managers tell you what to do. They are full of logical explanations. They use their place in the organization to convince their subordinates to achieve their objectives. Leaders sell you on their vision of what could be. They are full of passion. They use their personal charisma to convince followers throughout the organization to pursue an exciting idea.

6. Managers make rules; leaders break rules.

Are you working for someone who focuses on procedures and processes? Do you spend time thinking about how your work should be done and reporting regularly (often in a specific format) about your efforts? That’s a classic management style. If, instead, you are following someone who constantly challenges the status quo with ideas that are transformative, disruptive, and potentially hugely rewarding, you are working for a leader.

7. Managers want to be right; leaders want to do the right thing.

Managers like a workplace that hums along happily. They like steady increases in productivity and profitability. They avoid risk and discord. But leaders don’t mind a little unhappiness. They are willing to do the things that are difficult and unpleasant (including downsizing), as long as these things are in-line with their long term vision. They don’t care if they are unpopular at times, because they know that eventually, the short-term pain will pay-off with long-term success.

Many people in business possess a combination of managerial and leadership qualities. But it is good to recognize the differences between the two, as well as to be aware that leadership skills are increasingly valued over managerial traits in today’s knowledge economy.