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The Difference Between Managers and Leaders

While business managers opt for systematic, results-driven approaches, leaders prefer to act as creative visionaries and motivators.

In the workplace, the terms manager and leader are often interchangeable. But are they the same? While both sets of people guide others, upon closer inspection, they exhibit prominent differences. Business managers tend to focus on results, whereas leaders more often act as motivators who coach personnel in their organizations. Despite the contrasts, it is possible—if not advantageous—for each group to embrace some of the other’s attributes.

What are the main differences between a manager and a leader?

Goal-oriented versus visionary
Typically, business managers spend the day focusing on goals, and set expectations for their teams to achieve them. Leaders, on the other hand, take a more visionary approach. Business leaders visualize a company or team’s direction and encourage those around them to work together to strive toward that reality.1 Regardless of approach, both seek to better their companies.

The Difference Between Managers and Leaders

Mitigating versus taking risks
Business managers tackle short-term issues, preferring to swiftly mitigate risks. They value stability and may try to thwart problems before completely understanding their full significance. Meanwhile, business leaders aren’t risk-averse. They can handle disarray and mild chaos while their team works through a meaningful, long-term solution.1,2 A leader often views setbacks as opportunities for growth.3

Directing versus coaching employees
Business managers tell employees what to do. They set expectations, and the team executes them. To secure desired business outcomes, managers crave and seek control.4 On the other hand, business leaders prefer more of a coaching-style approach. Leaders encourage and motivate colleagues to excel. While results drive a business manager’s decision-making process, the business leader’s purview is more about impacting company culture for the better.5

Methodical versus creative approaches
Business managers prefer tactical, methodical approaches. They’re driven by numbers, benchmarks, and established processes. Business leaders enjoy creative brainstorming to solve problems. Relying on imagination and uncommon approaches, their processes may seem more aligned to those of artists, designers, and scientists.2

No doubt, the business world is full of effective managers and leaders. While business managers tend to make calculated decisions and analyze and neutralize risks while striving to meet goals, business leaders inspire, encourage, and promote workplace morale. Despite contrasting approaches, both are prized and useful.

Great management may produce impressive results and successes, but without frequent and clear communication with colleagues, managers will struggle to inspire others in the long term. Frank, open discussion with employees generates ideas and empowers workers to know they matter.5 To facilitate long-term business success, savvy business managers should incorporate feedback, encourage teamwork, and promote morale in borrowing some approaches from successful leaders.

If you would like to sharpen your skills as a business manager or leader, earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a great first step. Walden University’s online MBA program is offered in both course-based and competency-based learning formats. For those who have more time to devote to their studies, the fast-track course-based format can be completed in just 12 months. Regardless of the option you choose, you’ll have the opportunity to gain the managerial and leadership skills you need to succeed.

Walden also offers a self-paced professional development learning path through its School of Lifelong Learning, entitled Meeting the Leadership Challenge. Comprised of seven micro-courses, Meeting the Leadership Challenge will allow you to explore your individual leadership strengths and learn ways to improve as a leader.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,