3 Differences Between Managers and Leaders by Paul Zhao

Do you work for a manager or a leader?
If you have a team under your care, then are you are a manager or a leader?

These two questions apply to either the world of entrepreneurship or the arena of Corporate America. Here are the three dimensions that I’ve come to observe. Each has deeper and broader sub-implications. Naturally, there are more qualities, so feel free to share or expand on them below.

Does Things Right vs. Does the Right Thing

Is there a difference? Absolutely. A manager is preoccupied with making sure that rules are followed correctly and work is done accurately. That weekly business report? Better get it in on time and with the precise title, formatting, and metrics, or there will be blood. Be prepared to have answers in your back pocket for when higher-ups pop a question or two. Managers don’t want to make waves, so they want to ensure existing processes are respected. This isn’t to say that they are wrong, it is merely to state that managers are typically risk averse in that they prefer no to go outside the guide rails of established protocol or convention (even if the rules don’t make sense). Managers manage you the way that they want to please their superiors — that is, by following directions so that no surprises (good or bad) pop up. Doing things right is another way of saying — minimize risk. And while that’s not necessarily a bad quality, it certainly isn’t very inspiring. (It’s my personal opinion, though, that managers are actually just followers who have been promoted to a particular title and pay grade).

Leaders do the right thing, even if it means breaking convention. If you launch a new product and a weekly business report makes no sense, a leader will not mechanically require you to do it. They will actively make a case and set the proper expectations for either altering the reporting cadence more appropriately, or dispense with the practice entirely. Leaders, who focus on doing the right thing, manage people by encouraging them to think critically about why a task should be done, rather than mechanical follow through. In their minds, it’s more important to do tasks that return a good value on the time spent, rather than just ticking another “required” item off a checklist. Therefore, a leader will appropriately challenge the status quo by taking actions that make sense, rather than make the system happy by default. Leaders aren’t sycophants who want to please the higher powers. And leaders don’t derive their power from hierarchy or positional power (more on that in a separate discussion). They let the merit of their ideas and persuasive powers induce change.

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