Leader vs Manager

Leader vs Manager – the Eternal Question

As I work with more and more corporate executives as clients, one of the common themes I hear is “How do I project myself as a powerful leader” rather than as a manager? Or “I’ve been getting feedback that I’m not demonstrating leadership qualities”.

The middle management layer is often one of the hardest places to be in any organization. You’ve done well in previous roles and have been growing at a fast pace until now. You manage your team and generate good work and suddenly that is no longer enough to grow further – you are expected to demonstrate “leadership capabilities” or be seen as someone with “leadership potential”.

Leader vs Manager:-

So, what differentiates a leader from a manager? And how do you know what you need to do differently now?

  1. Broad Sphere of Influence: One of the most critical abilities that sets apart a leader from a manager is being able to have a much broader sphere of influence than the cone of authority of a manager. As a leader, you must be able to influence the thinking of not just your team, but your direct and indirect superiors, along with your peers. Leadership must be seen and experienced not just by your team but a broader set of people in the organization.
  2. Birds Eye View: See and communicate bigger picture and vision. Another key capability is to see the bigger picture and be a systemic thinker – as opposed to being focused on only current operations. The ability to see the bigger context of where one’s work fits in and ensuring it works within and strengthens the context is imperative to take on larger and more complex responsibilities to be perceived as someone who can Lead and not just Manage.
  3. Communications: It is not just sufficient for a leader to see and operate within the bigger context, it is also important to be able to communicate the same with clarity and focus the team on the purpose and vision behind it. Communication skills also play a key role in broadening the sphere of influence within and outside the organization at higher levels.
  4. Adaptability: Agility to learn quickly and adapt to changing priorities and situations. Business environments change very quickly, enabled further by technological advancements. VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) is the new reality under which businesses operate almost all the time. As a leader it is important to recognize, acknowledge and deal with the impact of VUCA on an ongoing basis, while still being able to keep the team focused and productive is another key expectation from a young leader.
  5. Emotional intelligence: Gone are the days when a Leader was applauded for producing results at any cost – now the focus is also on ‘How’ was the result achieved. What impact a Leader has on her/his team, and other colleagues can be a big factor for growth as a Leader. A few key elements of Emotional Intelligence include Self Awareness, Self Management, Effective Interpersonal Relationships and Social Consciousness.
  6. Not A Victim: Last but not the least and my personal favorite is – Not Being A Victim of circumstances but someone who has the maturity to recognize and deal with environmental factors rather than play the victim to circumstances. One, who while acknowledging the changes in environment, asks what can I do differently rather than use the environment as an excuse. Someone who believes something can be done by her(him)self to change the circumstances rather than wait for circumstances to become better or more suitable to be effective.


What are your thoughts? Do you agree or would you like to add something else to this list? Look forward to your comments and experiences.

If you’d like to break through the challenge of being the eternal manager and not a Leader, reach out to Lumen Coaching for an individualized coaching partner!


  1. Great article Gowri. I agree on everything you have written. It is also about continuous development, we are never done learning and growing as leaders and as human beings.

  2. […] the last article we looked at some key leadership behaviors expected at mid-management level to be taken seriously […]

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