Question: What’s the difference between a leader and a manager?

According to Forbes, leadership is a learned behavior that eventually becomes unconscious and automatic as time goes on, and the most successful leaders are instinctual decision-makers. Forbes is right, but there is plenty more to their definition. A business with great potential will not be able to go far without a strong leader at the helm. Since its inception in 2009, Payline has thrived under the exhaustive efforts of Co-founder and CEO Jeff Shea, and we can say confidently that this is a large part of our continued success.

Leadership is an important part of any business, but don’t be too quick to confuse the idea of “leadership” with the idea of “management” when trying to understand the difference between a leader and a manager. While it seems like the two terms should be one and the same, a team that has a leader instead of a manager can recognize and appreciate the difference. 

The concept of leadership carries with it a broader set of responsibilities. This is not exclusive to just influencing  your own management style but also in building a positive rapport with coworkers that is not always a guarantee with management. Referenced in his book Developing the Leader Within You, Dr. John C. Maxwell highlights a study done by John W. Gardner, the former Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, explaining five key characteristics that explain the difference between “leader managers” and “run-of-the-mill managers”:

  1. Leader managers are invested in the long-term, and they look beyond the day-to-day problems.
  2. Leader managers are not singularly occupied, in that they don’t just know and keep track of one department, but rather all departments and how they collaborate and influence one another
  3. Leader managers will display a heavy emphasis on the motivation of the company, as well as its vision and values.
  4. Leader managers will have strong political skills that enhance the ability to problem solve conflicts among departments .
  5. Finally, leader managers do not accept the status quo.

Something to keep in mind with “leader management” qualities  is that no one can assume perfect leadership overnight. Developing these  traits is an ongoing process, as well as a series of conscious decisions. It would be wonderful if we could just fall into the qualities that make great leadership, but this process reinforces the idea that anything worth having requires the effort. In his book, Dr. John C. Maxwell also outlines the Five Levels of Leadership, proving that the process of defining good leadership in your workplace is never over.

  1. Position: It begins with people recognizing that they follow your lead because they have to. This starts with recognizing your job responsibilities and using them as a starting point in moving up.
  2. Permission: People will begin to follow your lead not just because they have to but because they want to.
  3. Production: People will follow your lead because of what you have done for the organization. They like you and they like what you’re doing.
  4. People Development: People follow you because of what you’ve done and continue to do for them.  
  5. Personhood: People follow you because of what you represent and the person you are.

So, answer: what’s the difference between a leader and a manager? Within individual departments there may be some variances in how the management style flows, but overall, a universally recognized, influential leadership style is what will make those different managerial styles flow together and keep your business on track.

Whether you own a small business or work within a large corporation, effective leadership is key. Payline can help you steer your leadership in the right direction with our effective problem-solving of your business needs.

Follow the Leader


This piece was written by Lauren Minning, Content Specialist for Payline.