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Managers vs. Leaders: How to Spot the Difference


Managers and leaders, leaders and managers. We tend to use these words interchangeably and may even use them to refer to the same person, but there is a difference. So what is it?

Managers handle processes and tasks. They have oversight of day-to-day duties that need attention; reports, projects and system issues, for example. In contrast, leaders are in charge of a group of people. They offer support and guidance, coach up and give tips for success. They allow others to make decisions and share ideas…and encourage it. Although they lead, they stand behind their team. 

The team has the spotlight and doesn’t question the direction because their leader has armed them with the correct tools to make the right choices. A leader identifies talent and fills their bench with the appropriate strengths; they can handle change, introduce fresh ideas, and offer the right dose of vulnerability to allow for failure and openness.

In general, your employees are hungry for feedback. They want to know they’re doing a great job and that their efforts are making an impact. Statistics show employees don’t leave companies: They leave bad managers. If you’re not empowering your employees and giving them purpose, you’ll find yourself in the vicious circle of turnover, over and over again.

To start putting these conversations into place with your team, you need confidence. Envision Superman with his red cape: He not only looks the part of a leader, he acts it. Start by surrounding yourself with positive, successful people. Chances are they’ve been in your shoes and can offer great advice. This is also where the topic of mentoring can come into play. If your company doesn’t offer a training program or mentoring partnership, make it a point to meet with those people on your own. Gather their best practices, and gain tips on how they interact with their staff and leadership teams above them.

Motivational quotes and leadership advice books are great tools to read in your spare time, while interacting with peers outside of your organization provide insight and direct contact, affording you opportunities to mimic best practices. Join community groups or professional sites such as LinkedIn to gain exposure to successful people. Knowledge is power, right?

Now that you’re inspired and have your red cape, change the tone with your staff. Level-set and reset your expectations. Empower them and have them identify goals for themselves. Hold them accountable; challenge them. But instead of telling or dictating, create buy-in so they feel they are part of something. After all, employees are a company’s best asset.

One last piece of advice: Challenge yourself to think differently. Are you working efficiently; are your tactics cost effective? Step outside of that comfortable box. Just because “this is the way we’ve always done it,” doesn’t mean that it’s the best way. Be innovative and open to change. Your fresh ideas and change management tactics will inspire others and you will gain the leadership spotlight.