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Managers vs. Leaders: What’s the Difference?

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Perhaps you bear the title of “manager” and with it a load of responsibilities, I’m sure. Maybe you manage a product, systems, and processes or a team of people. Your days might consist of making one business decision after the next as you try to guide your company towards success. 

Merriam Webster defines a manager as “one that manages such as: a person whose work or profession is management.” I find this definition funny and redundant. Okay, we need to know a little more to understand. So I looked up: Management, “the conducting or supervising of something (such as a business).” Hm, vague. 

In other words, I think it’s easier to think about this umbrella term in the form of real-life examples. How many of us have had a crummy manager? Or just witnessed a manager doing a poor job in their role? Have you ever had a positive experience with a manager? Perhaps a supervisor helped mold you into a better person by their example. Or your manager gave you grace when you least expected it. 

Managers vs. Leaders

There is a stark difference between managers and leaders. Think of this difference as a line—on one side, the leaders, those who uplift and inspire people, and on the other side, managers. Now, many managers cross that line and are true leaders, and many leaders are not managers. So the line is quite blurry in reality. But for me, leaders are not those with leadership titles. They are the people in any walk of life who inherently seek the good of others. Managers can be good or bad, but someone is a leader only if they try to better the people they serve. 

In my book, I write: “No matter our title, leadership to me is a verb and requires an intention to help someone’s life be better and the commitment to act for the benefit of others” (The Art of Caring Leadership 1).

So you think you’re a leader? Maybe you consider yourself a leader because you have a leadership title. But I would encourage you to think deeply about what it means to serve people from a position of leadership. Leadership is a relationship founded on sacrifice. Management is a relationship founded on power.

I like to focus on a deeper sphere within leadership, or Caring Leadership which is “ taking daily actions in ways that show concern and kindness to those we lead” (The Art of Caring Leadership 1).

Manager then Leader, What’s Next?

Furthermore, if you desire to up your leadership game and be a full-fledged Caring Leader, I have a few recommendations. 

  1. Increase your inclusivity—surround yourself with all the people. You don’t want to be trusted just by certain demographics or only by the highest performers. You should invite everyone into your circle and show you value all. 

I write about this in a section of my book entitled, “Expand Your Invitation to Speak”:

Have you invited the appropriate people to the conversation? Are you inclusive of all perspectives? Who is seated at the table? Who is not in the room that perhaps should be? When you are thinking about creating psychological safety for your employees, you have to ask yourself, “How much more inclusive can I be?” (108).

A person’s voice is their most powerful tool. If our voices are silenced, ignored, or regarded as noise, then we feel debased and devalued as human beings. That is Freedom of Speech. Above all, leaders must amplify others’ voices. 

  1. Be of service to others. If a Caring Leader uplifts others, and the act of uplifting requires support, then try to be a reliable pillar of strength and support for those around you. 

 This reminds me of my interview with Daniel McCollum, which I highlight in my book: 

I want to be a servant-oriented leader. When I really dug deep into this idea of loving and serving, it’s coming every day and . . . trying to figure out how do I serve the people that report to me so that they can be successful? How do I enable them to be successful? How do I help them grow? . . . How do I correct along the way? —Daniel McCollum, founder and CEO, Torrent Consulting (14).

  1. Caring Leadership requires the act of inspiring others. Noticing someone’s gifts and talents is the first step in this process, but knowing how to motivate someone to act is an entirely different story. 

Howard Behar illustrates this in a personal story about his relationship with his wife, which you can listen to in this podcast episode or read in The Art of Caring Leadership. He reflects on the lesson learned saying:

“One of my mission statements for myself goes like this: ‘Every day, I want to nurture and inspire the human spirit. Beginning with myself first and then for others. I say ‘self’ first, because what I’ve learned after living this long is if I’m not okay with Howard, then I can’t help anybody else” (17).

A Total Reward Challenge

Include. Serve. Inspire. 

In conclusion, you will find that being a Caring Leader is a total reward challenge. Sure we will fail time and again; that’s the human in us. I invite you to put people first – Join the Caring Leadership Community

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Heather R. Younger, J.D. YouTube Channel