The difference between managers, leaders

One gets it done, the other motivates others

Leadership can be found — albeit to varying degrees — throughout an organization in all roles, at all levels, in individual employees and certainly in managers.

Consider a supervisor who inspires employees to greater performance or an individual employee who influences disgruntled co-workers to a more positive attitude and greater productivity. Are they both leaders? Absolutely.

This type of leadership is vital to an organization’s success and it is up to HR professionals to recruit and retain the right managers and leaders. To be successful on that front, the HR professional needs to recognize the characteristics that are inherent in managers and leaders and identify the similarities and differences of both roles.

The role of manager

Managers focus on getting things done and seeing tasks through to completion. As such, the role of a manager is to accomplish things by supervising and directing the effort and activities of subordinates.

Managers drive to the company’s bottom line. They manage people, processes and policies to produce results effectively and efficiently and they bring structure to group effort. They understand metrics and measurement and can easily quantify results. Often highly detailed, they’re able to see patterns and trends in large amounts of data — like seeing all the pieces of a puzzle, where they came from and how they fit together.

Good managers funnel their creativity into problem solving. They are natural detectives, digging into problems to discover root causes while seeing the impact of other contributing factors. They think clearly and critically, so when considering solutions they are able to dispassionately assess alternatives, see the implications of proposed solutions and prioritize objectively.

The role of leader

The role of a leader is to bring out the best in others and bring meaning to group effort — to enable others to accomplish and to achieve. To empower others means allowing them to do things differently than the leader would have done them.

To be a good leader requires courage and an ability to live with incomplete information. It requires that the leader not only be sufficiently adaptable to thrive within change but comfortable initiating and driving change when necessary.

Leaders must be risk takers (setting direction, rather than accepting direction, is inherently risky), but they must also be willing to take on the risks from the action — and inaction — of others. They must have the confidence to accept some failure as the price of ultimate success.

Ensuring recruiting success

The key to successful recruiting is a thorough and unambiguous understanding of the expectations of the role. When recruiting for leaders and managers, HR needs a clear understanding of the degrees to which management ability versus leadership ability is required in the position.

Good managers will want to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the organization’s pre-existing processes and systems, as well as their impact on the company’s performance.

With that in mind, the interviewer should provide an opportunity for a management candidate to ask questions and showcase problem-solving ability. The candidate should be allowed to dig into the current state of affairs to understand which problems need solving. The interviewer should also test for detail orientation by drilling as deeply as time allows on at least one specific role or project to make sure the candidate is comfortable with the required level of detail.

Leadership qualities lend themselves well to behavioural interviewing techniques — scenario-based questions that give the candidate an opportunity to describe performance in past situations. Questions regarding difficult personnel issues, strategic issues or issues around change and transition should all be included.

Both managers and leaders are success oriented and neither should have any trouble recounting details of past successes. However, there will be subtle differences in how they approach their answers.

Management strengths will be evidenced by a deep understanding of the causes of problems and the implications of solutions and plenty of detail around the results produced. Strong leadership candidates will highlight the achievements of their employees and the impact on the organization as a whole. An interview is a time when “blowing your own horn” is not only acceptable but expected. But good leaders will be most proud of their accomplishments in empowering others.

Retention strategies

The ultimate success of a new hire is only partially dependent on the candidate — it also depends on the organization. Leadership and management both require some inherent characteristics that are difficult to develop — attention to detail or interest in the success of others — but both also require skills that can most certainly be developed, such as effective delegation and empowering communication.

An organization’s approach to on-boarding, skills development and rewards and recognition all need to align with individual and organizational goals. The organization’s investment in hiring the perfect candidate must be matched with an investment in developing and retaining that employee.

Leaders typically want more ownership in the company so partial ownership, shares and options, as well as a fair degree of latitude, are important incentives for a leader. They want to build their reputation externally so public recognition is an effective incentive. Managers are generally more focused on stable compensation with fixed increments based on performance and internal recognition. Appropriate recognition measures for managers include the opportunity for internal promotion and lateral career moves.

Any job that involves working through others requires both managerial and leadership traits, and all candidates bring a mixture of managerial and leadership strengths to the table. The extent to which an HR professional is able to select and develop a candidate whose “strength profile” most closely matches the “requirement profile” of the job will determine the success the organization is able to achieve.

Kim Long is the vice-president of human resources at Nexient Learning, a Sydney, N.S.-based corporate training and consulting company. For more information visit

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