Are you a leader or a manager? To some, these terms are synonymous. In reality, the two titles are entirely different. It is possible to be a manager without being a leader, just as it is possible to be a leader without being a manager.

The difference between the two terms is easily illustrated by the way each approaches the following workplace topics.


A critical difference between leaders and managers is the ability to influence. Leaders are coaches with an undeniable desire to change and innovate for a purpose. Often this passion for progress for a cause, as opposed to progress for a bottom dollar, attracts others and forms stable relationships.

Conversely, managers tend to focus on achieving a specific set of defined goals using a pre-existing pool of people and skills. Systems and processes take precedence over relationships and inspiration. The personal growth of their subordinates is unnecessary unless it is directly required to achieve one of these goals.

People are drawn to people that want to help them grow. “Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, not power and control,” says Vineet Nayar in this 2013 Harvard Business Review article.  


Both managers and leaders are undoubtedly concerned with value. A leader strives to add value to each endeavor he/she is involved in, while a manager seeks to tally the value added by others.

A good manager can determine how much value a particular employee contributes to a specific goal, and then distribute workloads in such a way that allows them to accomplish that goal in the most efficient manner. As long as they check in often, and attain measurable success, managers are unconcerned with adding any more value than necessary.

A good leader recognizes the value added by each of their co-workers, but also adds additional value above and beyond the scope of the goal or project. Every task becomes an opportunity to create value for the team, the department, or the company. Leaders set a positive example by trusting the team to complete their tasks, leaving them free to work on other high-impact projects.


Risk is a negative to a manager. It is the possibility that quotas will be left unmet, boxes will be left unchecked, and performances will be subpar. A manager seeks to mitigate risks at all costs.

Leaders tend to embrace risk. They realize that failure is a necessary part of success, and work hard to ensure that the risks they take have the potential to benefit the company in the long run. It does not matter that a risk may not pay off immediately, as long as it could pay off eventually.  “[Leaders] do what they say they are going to do and stay motivated toward a big, often very distant goal,” writes Forbes Contributor William Arruda.