Are you a manager or a leader?


Not everyone was born to lead, and not everyone was born to manage. I drew some key distinctions below, and noted key skills of each. Which one are you?

Managers are task oriented / Leaders are performance oriented

Managers’ primary concern is that all tasks are done on time. Managers focus on the tasks, the quality of the tasks, and the timely delivery of these tasks. When tasks are not properly completed, a manager will address the issue with the team and may pick up the slack when needed. Managers are, for this reason, integral to the proper delivery of projects and are first hand involved in the minutia of the work.

Leaders focus on the performance of the team members, not the specific tasks that they are accomplishing. Leaders have a birds’ eye view of the relationships that exist within a team and, with that outlook, are able to discern a high performer from others. When team members perform at their greatest potential, tasks are accomplished at the expected level, which in turn affects the quality of the work completed. A well lead team will make a managers’ job a lot easier. The inverse is also true – a poorly lead team will create many hassles that will be the managers’ responsibility to resolve.

Managers are into the details / Leaders are into the vision

The best managers are impeccably detailed oriented. Many leaders will have that legacy with them, coming from managerial positions. But, leaders are, at times, required to let that go and to focus on the big picture vision. While managers have to concern themselves with how something will be done, step-by-step, leaders are focused on what needs to be done. Great leaders will ask questions that start with WHAT and great managers will ask questions that start with HOW. Together, a road map can be created to accomplishing anything. However, the order in which these questions are asked is key. If leaders fail to set the tone on the onset of a project, managers may be left with an unmotivated team. Leaders inject themselves to boost the morale and remind team members that opportunities are  not limited to circumstances. Managers bring the reality check back, one line item at a time.

Managers build projects / Leaders build relationships 

Perhaps one of the most critical distinctions between the two is that leaders are relationship builders, and managers are project/product builders. At some point managers will have to make a switch if they are aiming to be in a leadership role, and they are often strategically suited to do that, having been in direct contact with clients doing much of the work. But, not all managers will take on this opportunity because building relationships is a lifelong, never ending job. Leaders remember names, dates, facts and are continuously (and hopefully, genuinely) interested in people. Managers are interested in outcomes – projects’ and products’ end result. This distinction is what creates the critical cross-road that separates managers from leaders. Leaders are often concerned with the end product, but they measure the success of the outcome based on how the team, the clients, the users react and interact with the product. Managers measure their success on processes such as meeting budgets, timeline and workability.

Not any one company can survive without one of these: managers and leaders are essential. But, building leaders is harder because leadership is largely a way of being, whereas management is a way of doing things. Universities and many mentoring programs within companies focus on the doing part. As an architectural and then an engineering student, I was given a multitude of opportunities to learn new skills to help me accomplish architectural and engineering tasks. Not once was told that there was a way of being that could largely affect my ability to lead. If one wants to become a leader, they must learn to be visionaries, team builders, and whatever way of being is truly their natural self-expression.