Are You a Leader or Manager?

The Truth About Leading vs Managing

What’s the Difference Between a Leader and a Manager?

As a business coach, I am often asked what the differences are between a leader and a manager. 

Some say leaders have people follow them, while managers have people who work for them. Others say the biggest difference is the way leaders and managers motivate the people who work or follow them.

Many people spend hours pondering this question because they’ve been fed the narrative that becoming a leader is the ultimate goal and a sign of ultimate business success.

That’s why I believe leadership is an overused term. Showing leadership is certainly important and influential, but it doesn’t magically solve all your problems, and shouldn’t overshadow the importance and necessity of management.  

Actions are what lead you to results. And putting plans into action is more about management than leadership. It’s about actively intervening to steer your ship in the right direction.  

So when people ask me about the difference between leading and managing, I tell them: Leadership is about getting people to understand and believe in your vision, and to work with you to achieve your goals. Managing is about making sure the day-to-day things are happening as they should, so you achieve that vision.

You can’t build a third story onto a house if the house isn’t there, to begin with. And you can’t grow without a strong foundation. If you put something too heavy on a fragile frame, it will crumble under the weight.

A successful business owner needs to be both a strong leader and manager to get their team on board to execute their vision of success. 

So what are the traits of a leader and a manager and how do they work together?

As a leader, you need the vision to know where you are, and where you want to go. Without this step, a manager cannot execute the plan to get there and direct the team. The leader plans the direction for which the business must move and the precise goals they want to achieve (the what), and the manager focuses on the specifics (the how).

For example, a leader decides they want to expand their landscaping business to new locations with the same target market. A manager works on the specifics that will lead the business to that goal, such as hiring new team members, marketing services, and securing new clients.


Ensuring everyone in the business understands their role in the bigger picture is critical for team alignment, which allows you to achieve your goals quicker and easier. This is the job of the leader. That then allows the manager to control day-to-day work strategies, anticipate needs, and review resources, without worrying about internal roadblocks. A manager maintains control and order, and a leader develops an environment for change.


Managers have the ability to challenge the status quo and to do things differently – to think outside the box. This allows them to put the processes and systems in place that are the most effective and efficient. The leader focuses on inspiring and aligning the people under one cause that then carries out those processes.


Great communication skills are necessary for both roles. But the ability to keep the team informed of progress, where you are, where you are heading, and any speed bumps expected along the way, are traits of a great leader. This enables a manager to look after the team, listen to their needs, and involve them in the process.


Managers do things right, leaders do the right thing. So managers focus on rules, compliance, and tasks to ensure things are done right, on time, and on budget. Leaders focus on purpose, principles, and people, in other words doing the right thing.

To boil everything down to one sentence: A leader has their eye on the horizon, and a manager has their eye on the bottom line! Both roles are critical.

Your Challenge As A Small Business Owner

Leadership and management are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Larger businesses may have leadership and management positions with different responsibilities, but the people who fill those roles can, and should, still have overlapping traits.

This is a little different for small businesses. As small business owners, the challenge often lies in making sure you are both leading your team, as well as managing the day-to-day operations.

Naturally, you will lean more towards one of the two roles. Knowing where your strengths lie is important. Some people can do both. If you can’t, there’s no shame in holding your hand up and admitting your weaker areas. In fact, I encourage it.

You can learn how to be a leader, or get the skills to manage more effectively. Whether you’re a leader or manager, it’s about achieving maximum results in minimum time.

A business advisory can help you build your core leadership and managerial skills, so you can see your vision AND execute it. Business Benchmark Group is one of the leaders in coaching small to medium trades and construction businesses in Australia and New Zealand. 


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