Three Key Differences Between Leaders and Managers

Would you call yourself a leader or a manager? If you’re a solopreneur, chances are you’re both. But if your business is growing and you’re ready to add employees, it might be time to tease those apart. Not sure you understand the differences between leaders and managers? Learn how they’re different so you can lead more and delegate the managing to your staff.

Here are three key elements of running a small business and the roles leaders and managers play in each:

3 Key Differences Between Leaders and Managers


  • Leaders – Leaders establish the direction for the business. They have a vision of where the business will be next year and five years from now. Then they formulate a high-level strategy of how the business will get there. That requires an understanding of the internal and external environment and the resources they have to accomplish their plan.
  • Manager – Those who manage, take the leader’s vision/strategy and implement it. They are the ones who get into the weeds, work out the details, and establish a budget. Their focus is on the short-term so they are more concerned with the day-to-day operation of the business. Managers also provide feedback to leaders on the progress being made.


  • Leader – A leader’s job is to align the staff so everyone is on the same page. That means they need to clearly communicate their vision and strategy. In doing that, they motivate employees to follow them. They want the staff to buy into and support the plan. It’s something that gets reinforced throughout the life of the strategy.
  • Managers – A manager organizes the staff into groups to accomplish the goal. They also hire the people to fill that structure. Training and coaching are important management functions. They ensure that people have the skills to be successful and the feedback to perform at their highest level.


  • Leaders – Leaders set the standard on how things will be controlled. For example, they may determine that customers’ returns will be hassle-free or that the business will operate under green waste management practices. They also challenge the status quo when necessary to react to changes in the business environment.
  • Managers – These individuals play a major role in this area. Managers enforce the status quo so that all the parts are working together. That can include working out delivery with suppliers, monitoring quality, or handling customer issues that have been escalated to a higher level. They are ready to jump in when one of these variables is off track.

Both leaders and managers play an important role in the success of any small business. But there comes a point when the same person should no longer play both functions. Separating them helps the owner take on the more strategic leadership role while delegating control for the day-to-day to managers.

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