Leader or Manager?

Leader or Manager?

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

We keep asking the question because we’re told the wrong thing.

Leadership is a defining role, setting an example for behavior. In this way, leadership embeds values into the culture of an organization, providing the members the blueprint for what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

This defining role of leadership is a major difference between leaders and manager. This role creates a significant difference between the functions of leadership and management. For example, a large role of leadership is the establishment of direction for the organization. Developing this direction takes the form of creating a vision and mission for the organization. The creation of strategy for the organization is significant function of the leader (Higgins, 1994). Leaders are also charged with setting the standards of performance and influencing organizational members to follow these standards. For example, a leader of an organization will create a value statement which will be one of the organization’s behavioral guides. By setting this standard and following it consistently the leader will influence subordinates to align themselves in the same manner.

In contrast to leadership, the function of management is to direct, instruct, and command employees in a manner which best accomplishes the mission and vision of the company (Higgins, 1994). Managers seek to find the best means of accomplishing the organization’s objectives. This function can be seen in the way that managers follow policy and enforce the processes of the organization.

The difference between the roles of managers significantly alters the way each part behaves within the organizational setting. For instance, while managers do not create the vision or strategic direction of the organization they do make sure that vision and strategy are adhered to on a daily basis. In this same respect, leaders do not involve themselves in the actual day to day processes but instead oversee the functioning of the organization as a whole.

Studies of leadership have discovered that effective leaders possess five qualities or characteristics:

1. Leaders challenge the status quo by taking risks.
2. Leaders inspire a shared vision of common goals and promote a shared sense of possibility.
3. Leaders enable others to act, understanding different individuals’ capabilities.
4. Leaders lead by example.
5. Leaders understand something about human nature, responding to emotional needs of individuals as well as task-orientation (Leatherman and Howell, 2000).

As one can see, the qualities of effective leaders are a defining characteristic. While it is possible for managers to be effective leaders it is not always the reality. Leaders in this same way may not always be the best managers. The difference is not always seen because of the way that terms are used interchangeably, however; the differences are vital for understanding leadership and its purpose.

My personal view of leadership is that it is relationship between subordinates and authority figures in which subordinates are directed and utilized to accomplish specific missions or tasks. My personal definition seems to be in agreement with scholarly definitions. According to Fred Fiedler (1965), “leadership is a personal relationship in which one person directs, coordinates and supervises others in the performance of a common task (pg, 7).”

Leadership is defined also by its difference with management. Leaders will create organizational goals and vision for organizations. Leaders differ from managers in this regard because managers will carry out the mission and vision of the organization. Within this framework, leaders provide a broader function in which organizations and subordinates are led by the objectives and goals which the leader has defined. According to Stodgill (1950), “leadership must be viewed from standpoint of influence on organizational activity, rather than on group members (pg, 10).” This view makes sense when one considers that leadership takes a broad scope of responsibility. In this view, leaders cannot deal with daily tasks of governing individuals because by do so he or she will ultimately renege on their responsibilities to the organization as a whole. For this reason, managers must fulfill the role of daily operational directing.

There is a great deal of controversy over what characteristics define a quality leader. Depending upon the theory used to define leadership, this will give different descriptions of leadership skills and characteristics. One theory of leadership, trait theory, defines quality leadership through particular traits that many leaders share in common. According to Stodgill (1957) there are many characteristics that effective leaders possess. These traits include, being adaptable to situations, ambition, cooperation, assertiveness, decisiveness, dependability, energy, self-confidence, tolerance of stress, and the willingness to assume responsibilities. These traits are necessary for motivating subordinates and for conveying the organization’s goals and mission.

Leadership ultimately differentiates itself from management through its ability to lead organizations through vision and goals. This difference can be seen in the idea that managers do not necessarily need to be good leaders. This can also be said of leaders not being the best managers. These differences between managers and leaders are defined by the role of the leader and manager when dealing with subordinates.


Fiedler, F. (1965). Engineer the Job to Fit the Manager. Harvard Business Review 43 (September), pp. 115–122.

James Higgins, The Management Challenge, Second edition, Macmillan, 1994.

Leatherman, J, & Howel, M. (2000, November).Leadership in the public arena. Retrieved from http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/library/agec2/mf2491.pdf

Stodgill, R. M. (Jan 1950). Leadership, membership and organization. Psychological Bulletin, Vol 47(1), pp. 1–14.

Stodgill, R. M. (Ed), & Coons, A.E (Ed). (1957). Leader behavior: Its description and measurement. Oxford, England: Ohio State University, Bureau of Business.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


Vincent Triola. Wed, Feb 03, 2021. Leader or Manager? Retrieved from https://vincenttriola.com/blogs/ten-years-of-academic-writing/leader-or-manager

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