5 Key Differences Between Managers and Leaders

June 10, 2022 – When it comes to business, growing and succeeding requires more than just maintaining the status quo. To do that, you need people who are leaders – not just managers. But aren’t leaders the same thing as managers? In a word, no, says executive search and leadership consulting firm Alder Koten in a new report. “Sure, both leaders and managers supervise people,” said Alder Koten. “But leaders motivate as well as manage. They engage and improve their employees as well as oversee them. To reach your goals, your organization needs leaders as well as managers. And to target the top talent, you need to know the difference.”

The firm offered five of what it considers the most important distinctions between capable managers and trailblazing leaders:

1. Leaders are Risk-Takers

The main priority of many managers? Maintaining the status quo, said Alder Koten. While going above and beyond is always rewarded, managers focus more on how well they can support and maintain routine operations.

“Managers rarely tailor their skills towards working outside of the proverbial box,” said the search firm. “Instead, they focus on administering established tools and techniques. They know what works, and they stick to it. Managers may meet goals frequently – but they rarely exceed them.”

What makes leaders different? “They’re constantly looking for ways to change and improve the way things work,” said Alder Koten. “Instead of simply following protocol or making minor tweaks to operating procedures, leaders redefine company strategies and exceed company goals. In doing so, they drive the evolution of corporate culture.”

2. Leaders Drive People, Not Just Projects

Looking to hire a leader? Don’t discount charisma. “Of course, you can’t rely solely on a candidate’s personality when evaluating their suitability for a position,” said the search firm. “But personality – and personal magnetism – definitely impact what roles they can fill.”

Most managers possess good personal skills. They’re good at overseeing employees, communicating with them, and resolving issues. But they don’t always inspire those under them to reach their full potential. “Leaders, on the other hand, serve as focal points for motivation,” said Alder Koten. “They drive their projects to success – but they also drive their people to be better employees. They constantly and naturally inspire their teams to perform at a higher level, exceed goals, and think outside the box – just like they do.”

3. Leaders Dig Deeper

To successfully lead others, you need to be willing to see beyond the short-term to reach long-term goals. And to do that, you need to be able to look beyond the surface of an issue and dig deeper to find its solution.

“Managers follow the instructions they receive, and rarely question assumptions or push boundaries,” said the search firm. “But while they keep things running smoothly on the surface, they tend to avoid tackling underlying problems or questions.”

Related: What the Hybrid Workplace Means for Leaders  

“Leaders don’t stop at the surface – they dig deeper,” said Alder Koten. “Even if things appear to be going fine, they continually look for ways to innovate and improve. They don’t shy away from problems – they tackle them head-on. This drive to discover new methods and solutions is a critical component of leadership.”

4. Leaders Don’t Ask Permission

No one likes employees – or managers – who make big decisions without ever asking for feedback or opinions. But the people who can’t make any decisions without asking permission? They’re not who you want t work with (or for) either.

Many people find it hard to assume the authority needed to take initiative and make decisions. They’re afraid of messing up, afraid of stepping on toes, and, most importantly, afraid of failure. Leaders, though, don’t have that problem.

“Leaders derive authority naturally, from widely recognized skills and mastery of their field,” said Alder Koten. “They’ve proven themselves – both to their companies and to themselves. That means they’re comfortable making decisions and taking initiative, without asking for permission from those around them.”

5. Leaders May Not be Good Managers

Leaders are great at innovating and inspiring, problem-solving and producing. But surprisingly, not all leaders are great managers. Being a leader is different than being a manager – and that goes both ways. “There are qualities that great managers have that great leaders lack,” said the search firm. “Think organization, planning, and detail orientation. Many well-known leaders and innovators are far better at serving as directors and PR figureheads than they are at dealing with day-to-day minutiae.”

“Great managers aren’t necessarily great leaders – and great leaders aren’t always great managers,” said Alder Koten. “Some characteristics overlap, of course, but the distinctions are both real and important. As you fill roles within your organization and continue to grow, keep these differences in mind.”

Alder Koten helps clients acquire, develop and transition leadership talent through a combination of research, executive search, cultural and leadership assessment, and other talent advisory services, which include career planning, outplacement, coaching and leadership training. The firm has offices in Bogota, Dallas, Guadalajara, Houston, Mexico City, Monterrey and New York.

Related: How Emotional Intelligence Has Become a Key Leadership Trait

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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