Managers vs Leaders – 5 Critical Differences (with Examples)

Let’s play a game we’ll call “Managers vs Leaders.”

Read the following descriptions and guess which ones I would label as a leader, and which I would label as a manager:

  • a coach leading his football team to a Superbowl win
  • a team leader heading up a sales meeting
  • top executive guiding her company to multi-billion dollar revenues
  • a restaurant manager dressed in a suit
  • a fierce dictator delivering a bold address
  • or an Army colonel leading his regiment into battle

Got ’em?  Ready for the answer?

Before I tell you, let’s clear up…

The Worst Misconception About Leadership

The truth is leadership has nothing to do with position.

The real definition of a leader is someone who is able to influence others to follow.  

So the answer to our quiz is,… We can’t possibly know!  A restaurant manager may actually be an exceptional leader, and an Army colonel might actually be disastrous in his leader role.

OK, here’s an easier question… maybe.

Hitler and JFK - Great Leaders

The answer, of course, is both of them were great leaders, like it or not.

Bin Ladin and Stalin were leaders. As were Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Jesus Christ, and Abraham Lincoln.  Leadership is not defined by one’s purpose, vision, or authority… or even whether millions of people vehemently opposed them.  The true question is if they can acquire followers who will happily pledge their allegiance?

Some managers are great leaders, and some business owners and CEO’s make terrible leaders.

Having said that, for this article and this article only, I’m going to pick on stereotypical “bad managers” and bosses, and compare them to “good leaders”, because I believe the manager vs leader distinctions will be valuable for you.

#1 – Managers and Bosses Cast Blame, Leaders Take Ownership

Darren Hardy Leader vs Manager QuoteIn John Maxwell’s classic book on effective leadership, “Developing the Leader Within You,” he tells the humorous story that demonstrates the importance of accountability as a leader.

During a sales meeting, a manager was fed up with his team and berating them for their dismally low sales figures.

“I’ve had just about enough of poor performance and excuses,” he said. “If you can’t do the job, perhaps there are other sales people out there who would jump at the chance to sell the worthy products that each of you has the privilege to represent.”

One of his salesmen was a newly recruited, retired pro football player.

Thinking he’d get an assist from the football player, the disappointed manager said, “If a football team isn’t winning, what happens? The players are replaced, right?”

With the entire sales team’s eyes on the retired player, he responded,

Actually sir, if the whole team was having trouble, we usually got a new coach.

You see the first step a true leader will take is look himself or herself in the mirror and ask, “What can I change? How can I improve? What could I have done differently.”

And take 100% blame and responsibility for his or her failures. 

How to Take Extreme Ownership as a Leader

Navy SEAL commander Jocko Willink refers to this highest level of accountability as “extreme ownership.”

It’s a phrase we use often on the Darren Hardy team.  I try to instill it in my managers, since they are LEADING their teams, and most of all, I have to display extreme ownership myself.

Here’s a rule of thumb you can use to guide you in every leadership success or failure:

Great leaders pass the credit and take the blame!  “If we succeeded, the team did it.  If we failed, I did it.”

You might think it sounds like weakness for a leader to be admitting fault, but your team will love you for it!

You see, managers and bosses say “You need to improve”, while leaders say “I need to improve.”

Here’s Britt from our A-team on what you can do to learn and teach “extreme ownership:”

If you want to teach extreme ownership to your kids, your team, and your peers, I highly recommend you get your hands on Darren’s million-plus-copy, international best-selling book, “The Compound Effect,”  and re-read it at least once a year, as I do.”

You can pick up “The Compound Effect” by clicking here.

#2 – Managers Instruct, Leaders Lead by Example

Here is a John Wooden quote I love:

“Your most powerful tool is your own example.”

This is the number one principle of leadership.

You want a $100,000 course on leadership?

… One that if you paid for it, would still return a 10 to 100X ROI?

Here it is… the most important leadership principle you can ever master…

Leading By Example 

Managers Instruct - Leaders Lead by Example
Just like your kids don’t listen to you, because they are purposefully trying to individuate, prove their independence and self-identity. But the one thing they never do is stop watching. They will mirror and match your example all the way to the therapist’s couch.

This unconscious pattern doesn’t end.

As a species, we are always mirroring and matching the leader who the tribe we are a part of deems as the leader.

If that is you, you are being watched. Every action, behavior, mindset, and philosophy is being mirrored by your tribe. Whether you know it or whether they know it, it’s happening.

THIS is why the key to changing the behavior of your team, to change the pace and consistency of your team… is to change your own.

They will follow, not your words… those got tuned out long ago… but by their nature, they are compelled to follow your lead… not your leadership, your lead. You don’t lead from behind… you go… rather you lead from up front… follow me.

This is why John said, your most powerful tool is your own example.

Leaders Must Be the MOST
If you want to lead people, you have a massive responsibility. You set the pace.

You see, people don’t work as hard as they can. They are not as dedicated, loyal, consistent, caring and hardworking as they can be. They don’t go as fast as they can… they only go as fast as the leader.

It’s like dragging a sled across the tundra of Canada. If you have 12 dogs to pull the sled, you don’t need 12 fast dogs, you only need one musher: the lead dog.

Lead Dog - Mushing Graphic

Image Credit: Wikipedia.

The other 11 will work like mad to keep up with the one strong dog.

As the leader, you are the strong dog… and everyone will work like mad to keep up.

Like it or not, as the leader… the reason why you get to wear the badge that says “leader” is you have the obligation to be THE MOST.

Yep, you have to be the MOST disciplined. You can’t just be sometimes disciplined. As the leader, you have to be THE MOST.

As the leader, you have to be the MOST consistent. The MOST loyal. The MOST servant, compassionate, authentic and committed. Whatever attribute you want your team to possess, display and live out… YOU have to be the MOST.

They will simply model you. And that is why John said, your example is your most powerful tool of leadership.

#3 – Managers Push, Leaders Pull

A boss and a manager prod from behind. 

But a leader pulls from up front.

Let me give you an example from the great leader, General Dwight D. Eisenhower:

You see a boss and a manager says, “Hey you. You go.”
Where a leader says, “Hey, let’s go. Let’s go together.”

#4 – Managers Give Answers, Leaders Ask Questions

Managers are accustomed to being the go-to person for answers.

They’re used to giving direction and opinion. It makes them feel valued, important and reinforces their position of authority. Also, some managers prefer to deliver the answers because they think it will save precious time. 

Unfortunately, when managers routinely dish out the answers, they become enablers of that dysfunctional cycle, which is actually a huge time-waster. Now team members regularly seek out the manager for the solution rather than being problem-solvers.

This prevents the ability to develop real solutions, stifles team member growth and ultimately limits the organization’s productivity.

Additionally, when team members are used to going to the manager for answers and direction, they actually transfer the ownership of the problem from themselves to the manager.

Consequently, they can then blame the manager for the goal’s shortcomings and failure. It’s no longer their fault because they didn’t provide the solution – the manager did.

Assigning team members with the task of uncovering the reason for their missed goal or creating a viable solution to a problem or challenge puts the responsibility back where it ultimately belongs.

So how do you do all this?

By NOT providing answers. Instead, answer every question with a question.

Teach people to think, learn and grow… and to think for themselves.

Leadership Test is Empowering Others - Bill Gates

Columbo solves his mysteries by asking many questions; as do all the great detectives – in real life as well as fiction.

As the leader of my own organizations, I know I have made the fatal mistake – which is being the guy with all the answers.

All this did was create further dependency, mutated people’s ability to think for themselves,
hampered the speed and pace of our productivity and crippled our growth trajectory… particularly in this fast moving, hyper-flexing and progressing marketplace we are in today.

To remedy myself of this, I strictly forbade myself from providing any answers.

With every question or inquiry I would simply respond with, “What do you think?” or “What do you suggest?”

Followed with the pivotal question “And why?”

I don’t want to just evolve their answers, I want to evolve their thinking.
The situations will change. The needed answers will change so you don’t want to just educate people on the answers, you want to evolve and grow their thinking… and the “Why?” follow along helps them do just that.

Think back to your favorite teacher, someone who really made a difference in your life. Did he or she give you all the answers? No, probably not.

Did he or she make you look for the answers? Yes, probably so. Did this teacher hold you accountable for acting on your answer? Absolutely!

These are the ways great leaders help people learn, cultivate the potential of those around them and enable growth.

So, If you are reading this, you are a leader.

You either lead a team of people or you lead a family or you lead a church group or peer circle of friends.

Today, make it a “NO ANSWERS day.”

Don’t give anyone advice or make any suggestions for anything, all day.

Don’t give anyone answers to any question, problem or situation that arises.
Instead for every question you are asked, ask, “What do you think, and why?” or “What do you suggest, and why?”

#5 – Managers Develop Subordinates, Leaders Develop Leaders

Managers fear being replaced by other team members, and therefore, prefer to keep a position of authority and power over them.

This is understandable fear, but unfortunately, it’s a misguided thought process as a leader.

It’s been said that success without a successor is failure. If you’re running a team or a business that cannot operate without you, you’re failing. You should be able to take that 1 to 2-week vacation, or even that 6 months to 1 year sabbatical with perfect confidence that your business will not just function, but thrive.

As a leader, you should be looking to put yourself out of a job. In an effort to delegate, eliminate, and automate, true leaders understand they must empower others to become leaders. 

The more you are able to duplicate yourself and reduce the mundane, everyday management and operational tasks you do, the more you’ll free up your time to focus on high-level, needle-moving activities… using those special superhero skills no one in your organization can do but you.

Leaders Delegate Responsibility

Leadership Development – How to Grow Exceptional Leaders
Learning to lead has been a challenge but teaching others to lead has been an even greater one.

I’ve already pointed out several of the essential leadership qualities you must develop in your leaders if they are to succeed:

  • Take 100% ownership in every situation
  • Lead by example
  • Be Authentic and ask questions

Beyond this, I believe in my core you have give your leaders the freedom to get their hands dirty and lead, and TRUST that they will do a good job.

Here is something I have found as a leader:

People’s IQ seem to double as soon as you give them responsibility and indicate that you trust them.

Marionette No More: Drop the puppet strings. Give others more responsibility and decision-making power without micromanagement and approvals.

Train, but then trust them. Let them lead.