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The differences between leader and manager

By Atip Muangsuwan

The differences between leader and manager

“A Manager’s role is transactional; while, a Leader’s role is transformational.” – Coach Atip Muangsuwan

One of my new-generation-leader clients showed up with his leadership question: “What are the differences between a leader and a manager?”

Our talks went on like the followings.

Client: I’ve just joined my company’s management team recently and sometimes I’ve heard my CEO call our team, “Management Team” and some other times, call our team, “Leadership Team”. So, I’m curious and really eager to know what the differences between management and leadership are. To simplify my question, “What are the differences between a leader and a manager?”

Coach Atip: Yes, sometimes that would seem confusing. Because the terms ‘leadership’ and ‘management’ are often used interchangeably and whilst they are complementary, they are not the same.

Client: If so, could you please clarify the terms for me?

Coach Atip: Certainly! There are some key differences between a manager and a leader. Have you ever read a book entitled, “The One Minute Manager” by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson?

Client: Nope. Could you please share the book’s summary with me if you’ve read it?

Coach Atip: Yes, I certainly could.

“The One Minute Manager” holds three tools, 60 seconds each, which, if applied correctly, can change your management style for the better. In a nutshell, the book gives us key insights on the followings:

  1. Set three goals for each of your employees, which you can review in one minute or less.
  2. Use one-minute praise to give your employees positive feedback when they’ve done good work.
  3. Use one-minute reprimand to express your dissatisfaction or disappointment when they’ve shown below-standard performance.

You can see that a manager’s role is to set goals, praise and reprimand his/her subordinates. Praise-and-reprimand approach uses pleasure-and-pain or reward -and-punishment or carrot-and-stick approach to drive employees’ performance.

A manager offers their people things in order to persuade them to do something and punish them if they refuse to do it.

This is what I refer to it as, “Transactional approach”. Whereas, for leaders, I refer to it as, “Transformational approach”. If you want to learn more in details about transformational approach, please feel free to read from my website’s article: “What is a definition of transformational leadership?”

Client: I think “The One Minute Manager” quite represents what a manager is supposed to do in terms of his/her role and responsibilities. I think I will buy this book to read further. I seem to like it very much!

Coach Atip: That’s right. I do like this book, too!

Client: Could you please differentiate between “transactional” and “transformational” approach for me?

Coach Atip: Absolutely! When I refer to the word, “transactional” approach for a manager, it means…

  1. Directing employees with their work and tasks VS motivating them to do their best in their work and tasks.
  2. Taking responsible for delivering orders, organizing workload and flow, assigning tasks to their team members, tracking and managing results, and ensuring the job is done VS bringing out the best in people and getting them to use their skills and talent to inspire results.
  3. Using the job title or rank to take control of people VS using his/her vision and empowerment to lead people.
  4. Making use of systems and structures to make people follow VS using trust and encouragement to motivate people to get things done.
  5. Following organizational protocol and channels to achieve success VS focusing on an employee’s satisfaction and looking for new ways of achieving within the organizational and team framework.
  6. Focusing on short-term goals VS long-term view.
  7. Focusing on the tasks, goals, and the bottom line. It is about meeting expectations and accomplishing the objectives and mission set out by the organization VS achieving those through empowering employees, looking at laying groundwork for the future, charting new growth, and integrating employees’ feedback and ideas into future plans.
  8. Sharing a vision or goal VS selling it to people to get them on board and take them on a journey.
  9. Communicating goals, planning details, and assigning tasks VS building excitement, gaining stakeholder buy-in, and having a general direction which allows the team to move forward together.
  10. Focusing on managing work and output VS focusing on the people and leading them to achieve overall objectives.
  11. Telling employees what they need to achieve and expecting them to do their assigned duties VS trying to have employees use their own initiative and expertise to achieve and drive themselves forward, and trusting them to be the best they can be.
  12. Having formal team members and subordinates VS not necessarily having formal subordinates, but people follow him/her just because they’re inspired and motivated.
  13. Ensuring work gets done by using his/her authority given by a nature of his/her role and title VS not necessarily having formal authority, but people follow him/her and work towards what he/she wants to get done based on his/her communication and behavior.
  14. Enforcing the culture VS shaping the culture by driving passion and energy.
  15. Focusing on tactical activities to accomplish tasks VS transforming a staff member’s role, output, and overall team success by appealing to the people around him/her and unlocking their potential.
  16. Minimizing risks VS being a risk-taker. This isn’t to say a leader will break the rules; it is more about stretching themselves and their team for a potential greater pay-off and result, and doing what is right for the overall objectives or for the greater good.

Client: Wow! Your explanation and elaboration are very clear to me. So, the “transformational” approach are the ones after the VS, right?

Coach Atip: That’s exactly right!

Client: So, for myself, which approach should I adopt going forward?

Coach Atip: What do you think?

Client: I think I would need both approaches! Because both approaches have the pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages.

Coach Atip: You’re exactly right! The key is… how to put balance on both approaches depending on your contexts, situations and organizations. That’s why there’s a term, “Situational Leadership”.

And when I say the word, “balance”, it doesn’t mean a, “50:50” ratio. My balance may mean… 60:40, 40:60, 70:30, 30:70 or 80:20, 20:80, etc. It all depends on your situations.

For example, in one situation or organization, you may need to apply a ratio of 70:30 of transactional and transformational approaches. Whereas, in another situation or organization, you may need to apply a ratio of 20:80 of transactional and transformational approaches in order to yield the most effective outcome.

So, my balance here means the optimum ratio that would produce the most effective outcome.

Client: Wow! This is very insightful. Could you please elaborate more on the term, “Situational Leadership”?

Coach Atip: Of course. Situational leadership is a style of leadership where leaders consider the readiness level of the team members they serve and the uniqueness of every situation.

Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard developed the situational leadership model in 1969 while working on Management of Organizational Behavior. The situational leader brings out the best in their team by creating a democratic work environment and promoting adaptability and flexibility.

Client: Wow! Ken Blanchard again?

Coach Atip:  Right. Ken Blanchard is one of the renowned leadership gurus. He also wrote the book entitled, “The Servant Leader”.

Client: What’s the servant leader?

Coach Atip: The servant leader is the leader who focuses on serving people or the greater good rather than doing self-serving. Philosophically, the servant leader turns the hierarchy pyramid upside down, so he/she works for the people, who eventually work for customers.

So, in my view, the servant leader is also a kind of transformational leader. You can see their similarities from my article: “What’s a definition of transformational leadership?” I wrote about it quite lengthy there.

Client: Sure! I will read about it as soon as I complete my coaching session with you today.

Coach Atip: Thank you. To answer your question: “What are the differences between a leader and a manager?”

The short answer is… the key difference is that a manager will focus on planning, organizing, and coordinating resources to manage tasks and deliver results. While, a leader will inspire, motivate, and influence those around them which will drive people to achieve their goals and objectives while working towards the bigger picture.

Another word, “A manager’s role is transactional; while, a leader’s role is transformational.” And you need both leadership styles if you still work in an organization. The proportion of both styles depends on your organization’s contexts and objectives or purposes.

After my client and I finished our leadership discussion, we continued on with our coaching conversation as usual.

If you want to discuss or be coached on any leadership topics, you can get in touch with me via my homepage for a discovery session @ Home – The Best Coach International (thebest-coach-international.com)

To self-transcendence leadership,

Advocate of ‘Coach-Facilitator-Mentor-Strategist-Diplomat’ skills and self-transcendence leadership