Leader vs Manager: Traits, Qualities and Characteristics

Updated on April 24, 2016

Are You a Leader or a Manager?

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Leader vs Manager is perhaps a debate that's as old as the history of modern business organization. In so many ways, both of these terms are somewhat nebulous with many definitions.

This article starts with a simple self-assessment that helps you determine whether you are predominantly a leader or a manager. Next, it defines what leadership and management are and compares and contrasts their traits, characteristics and qualities. It also provides some resources for further exploration, study and reference.

The best place to start reading this article is to take the simple assessment to the right. A word of caution: It's wrongly assumed by many that leaders are somehow "better" than managers or that managers should try to be leaders. Both have their value in the world. Please make sure that you answer the questions with brutal honesty with yourself.

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Leader vs Manager: Traits and Characteristics

In my experience in working with leaders and managers, I have found that most people are predisposed from their early childhood, maybe even from birth, to be either a leader or a manager. That's not to say that a person can't acquire the skills to be one or the other, only that to most people one is more natural than the other. This is why a person would be naturally attracted to either being a manager or a leader. Following are some traits and qualities that make leaders and managers predisposed to be one or the other.

Leadership vs Management Personality Traits

Leadership Personality Traits
Management Personality Traits
Big Picture
Detail Oriented
"Are We in the Right Jungle?"
Cutting Trees Efficiently
Vision, Strategy, Execution
Goals, Projects, Tasks
Forge Vision
Follow Vision
Right Brain/Lateral Thinking
Left Brain/Linear Thinking
Process, Results
People are the Reason
People are the Means
People More Important than Task
Task More Important than People
Internal Frame of Reference
External Frame of Reference
Intuitive: Seek Internal Guidance
Sensing: Seek External Data
Visionary, Dreamer, Romantic
Level-headed, Realistic, Practical
Goose: Production Capacity
Golden Eggs: Productivity, Production
Panoramic Vision
Tunnel Vision

Leader vs Manager: Commonalities and Differences

Leaders and managers share 6 things in common. They differ, however, in how they deal with those six things.

1. People

Both leaders and managers work with people. However, for a leader, people are the reason, the cause for whom an endeavor is taken on, a vision attained or a project completed. For a manager, people are primarily a means to achieve a significant achievement, accomplishing an important task or completing a project.

2. Reality

Both managers and leaders understand that there is a collective condition, a Reality, that's unacceptable to a group of people. A leader's intention, however, is to help those people believe in the Vision of a solution to their Reality. The manager's intention is to motivate them on a gradual path to a Vision.

3. Vision

People often form a Vision of how they want things to be, which is important to both leaders and managers. Leaders help people forge a shared vision that they believe in and communicate it back to them to get their agreement. Managers help people make that Vision actionable by breaking it down in incremental goals, projects and tasks and providing the necessary resources for moving forward in the direction of the Vision.

4. Gap or Cognitive Dissonance

The gap between the Reality and the Vision, also known as Cognitive Dissonance in psychology, gives rise to an endeavor. Leaders use Cognitive Dissonance to help people carve out a path from Reality to Vision that they can believe in. Managers use Cognitive Dissonance to help people take specific action steps on a specific path.

5. Path

Both leaders and managers understand that people need to choose a common path to go from their Reality to their Vision. Once the path is chosen, leaders make certain that people remain on the right path to the right Vision. Managers, however, make sure that their progress on that path is pursued efficiently - as quickly as possible and at the minimum expenditure of resources.

6. A Higher Purpose (Optional)

People often share a sense of mission or purpose that transcends the avoidance of Reality and achieving of a Vision. Both leaders and managers make use of Higher Purpose. Leaders bring out the best in people, their higher angels, so they will give their whole beings to the achievement of the Vision. Managers tap into people's higher purpose and transform it into a selfless sense of persistence, endurance and perseverance.

What's Your Take-away on Leadership Versus Management? Please Share Below

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    • awayre profile image

      Bhavesh Naik 4 months ago from Maryland, USA

      Thank you for your comment, Dolly. Also, you don't have to be a good leader to be a good manager. Nor do you have to be a good manager to be a good leader. But I think there *are* some misperceptions about which position requires leadership and which management. A CEO of a corporation will require more management skills than leadership. On the other hand, someone at the head of a social movement will require more leadership abilities than management. Also, what a person lacks, she can find in someone else and team up with that person. That's why many of the best-run organizations actually have a pair of people at the helm, although one person would generally be more prominent. Think Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger at Berkshire Hathway, Steve Jobs and Tim Cook at Apple, Walt Disney and Roy Disney at Disney Inc, and Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer (and many others) at Microsoft.

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      DOLLY KEITELL 4 months ago

      A VERY GOOD article , if u are a good leader . u can be a good manager

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      Locke Davis 5 months ago

      Good article! Management can, for the most part, be taught. Leadership is harder to teach and is more instinctive in the person in my opinion. In the ideal person, these traits are blended and one relied on more heavily depending on the situation as others have also noted. If you have to choose between traits in a potential candidate, I look for the leadership traits and then teach in the managers traits applicable to the organization.

    • awayre profile image

      Bhavesh Naik 17 months ago from Maryland, USA

      Thank you for your comment. I think most organizations need a good mixture of management and leadership skills. However, not enough attention is paid to the ability of the manager - through the efforts of her team - to accomplish goals. This is where the two skills come together where the leadership trait inspires the team and the management trait drives that inspiration towards a given goal. These two traits can co-exist in one person.

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      Gbabo John 17 months ago

      A very good article, very educating. although it is good to be a leader but it is also very important that you get goals done, hence we should try and marry our managerial skills with good leadership. this will be a wonderful characteristic.

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      Adi 2 years ago

      Everyone cannot be a leader. Leaders who have the vision and right approach must become the management once they are replaced by the next right leader. In this political world today, references work better than talent to get jobs. People with a right vision must lead at every level of management. They will bring the right change.

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      Kami 2 years ago

      Very detail, enjoy reading it

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      Rajesha 2 years ago

      Nice article

    • dhimanreena profile image

      Reena Dhiman 3 years ago

      In-depth article. You have explicitly told the difference between a leader and manager. I enjoy while reading it.

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      siphelele ncube 3 years ago

      The thing about a mananger is that,sometimes in the workplace there is so much nagetive energy that management traits can't solve thus a leader can easily perform. And adapt to managerial skills but managers battle to adapt leadership skill,therefore causing a discommunication with he/her employees

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      Rod 3 years ago

      Very nice and educational article. I really like this kind of worthwhile materials. A leader is willing to transfer or convey his bests to his subordinates giving himself confidence that his group can actually do things with ease during his days of absence and acknowledge the accomplishment as group efforts. A good leader of this kind is truly selfless. A grand salute to the Author!!!

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      jemal 4 years ago

      What we need in this century is leadership. It is the panacea for all countries and organizations.

    • CompassAdvisor profile image

      CompassAdvisor 5 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      Nice article

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      birhanu 5 years ago

      I got a nice concept thankyou

    • Michael VO profile image

      Michael VO 5 years ago from Warrenton Missouri

      "Strategy without tactics is dreaming" is a powerful truth. S-T Diagrams or S-T Trees are a useful tool for mapping out the framework of tactics, assumptions, logical sufficiency to move up through the frame work of tactical action necessary to achieve the strategy.

    • FSlovenec profile image

      Frank Slovenec 5 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      There is an intersection between manager and leader. The great leaders know when to manage and when to lead..things are most often not black and white accept in the classroom.

      Strategy without tactics is dreaming. Big picture without the details to execute is foolish expectation.

    • Michael VO profile image

      Michael VO 5 years ago from Warrenton Missouri

      Leaders are a rare commodity. I worked in a large aerospace firm. There was a spate of managers, but no one to pick up the banner to lead. Maybe the skills that "lead" to leadership are not as visible or perceived as valuable as the managerial skill set.