Evan Hackel

By Evan Hackel

Leaders and Managers Are Not the Same . . . Which Are You?

Leaders and Managers Are Not the Same . . . Which Are You? 150 150 Evan Hackel


To succeed, your company needs both great leaders and great managers.

That’s confusing to think about, isn’t it? Aren’t great leaders and great managers pretty much the same? No, they aren’t. Leading and managing are two separate and distinct skills, each with different central functions.

What Leaders Do . . .

  • Have a vision for what an organization can be.
  • Communicate that vision with such determination and passion that others want to take part in it and make it become real.
  • Inspire people to want to discover their strengths and develop them by being part of a shared enterprise.
  • Create a positive organizational culture where people want to belong.

Those are only a few of the things that superior leaders do. And by doing them, they accomplish a tremendous amount for their organizations.

What Managers Do . . .

  • Understand and oversee how an organization runs and operates.
  • Identify and hit key performance indicators.
  • Make sure that the company has the right staff to get the right things done.
  • Watch the financial statements and know what to do to prevent problems before they occur.
  • Hire employees, manage their performance, and make sure operations run steadily.

Those are key responsibilities that good managers contribute. Even if your company has the most inspiring leaders, it will fail unless great managers are present too.

Why Understanding the Differences Is Important

When you compare those skills, you immediately see that there are fundamental differences. Understanding those differences matters, for several reasons.

One is that good business doesn’t need either great leaders or great managers. A good business needs both. Does yours have them?

In some rare cases, you can find one person who is both a great leader and a great manager. But in the overwhelming majority of cases, a successful enterprise needs people who have two different sets of skills. That explains why many highly successful organizations have a strong CEO (a leader) who is paired with a strong COO (a manager). In those organizations, the CEO is spending time developing a vision to move the business forward and inspiring people to take part. At the same time, the COO is providing a structure and procedures that make that vision become real.

Turning the Mirror on Yourself

Now here is a tougher question . . .

Have you stopped to consider whether you are a manager or a leader?

As you have probably noticed, a lot of companies get into trouble when top executives fail to ask that question. For example, we have all seen companies where the founders were good functional managers, but not leaders with the vision to imagine what their companies could become. We have also seen companies led by visionary leaders who couldn’t manage the many processes it takes to make their businesses operate.

And what about you? Remember, there is no blame if you can’t handle everything – if you cannot both lead and manage. So, are you a manager, or are you a leader?

After you consider and answer that question, the next step is to rather selflessly define what your role should be in your company. In many ways, the goal should be to do all the things that come naturally for you, and not to worry about the things that don’t. If you’re a stronger leader than a manager, then you might need to modestly surround yourself with skilled managers who can handle the nuts and bolts. And if you’re a better manager than a leader, you need to do the opposite. Even if you started your company, bringing in an inspiring leader can be the key to success. Setting aside your ego is a selfless thing to do.

Remember, one of the biggest mistakes both leaders and managers make is assuming that it’s easy to learn the other skill. Most people can achieve much more if they focus on what they do well and do as much of that as possible. That means doing what you love to do, and also bringing in great people to do what you don’t enjoy doing.

Leader or Manager?

So, which are you? And once you know, what are you going to do about it? Having the courage to ask and answer those questions can be the secret to reaching the highest levels of success.