People often make the mistake of using both the terms “manager” and “leader” interchangeably, but there are marked differences between the two which should not be taken lightly. These are key positions that involve major responsibilities, and both are equally essential to the success of every company and organization.

So what makes each of them unique?

1. Distinct characteristics

Leaders have followers; managers have subordinates. Leaders are all about motivating and inspiring others; managers are more concerned with order and control. Leaders see the big picture; managers care more about the current situation. It’s probably safe to say that leaders think with their hearts while managers think with their heads.

2. Distinct roles – “Leaders lead; managers manage.”

Leaders get involved with people; managers focus on work and output. Leaders guide and convert others; managers direct and supervise. When challenges arise, leaders take risks and welcome change; managers strive to maintain stability and consistency. A leader’s actions are ruled by passion, while a manager’s are focused on results.

3. Leaders can be managers but not all managers can become leaders.

Managers may take on leadership roles, but this does not make them true leaders. Leaders are more flexible and adaptable than managers, and so can train themselves to learn and develop management skills; however the very essence of leadership – taking chances, creating new systems and challenging the norm – will definitely look and sound foreign to a manager who is in the habit of maintaining the status quo.

To summarize, neither is better than the other, or less difficult, or more rewarding. One effectively complements the other, which explains why they are both necessary. So now the only question left is: What fits my personality best? What does my team need from me? How does a timeline impact my choice? The decision to lead or manage will depend on many variables. Learning skills with both options will impact your success and ultimately those on your team.

Jane Morrison is a Certified Executive Coach and Founder of AuthenticPower Consulting and The Center for Inspired Leaders. She works with leaders and business owners, to dramatically influence their brand, performance and culture in a dynamic way. You can reach her at