What is the Difference Between a Leader and a Manager?

Is there a difference between a leader and a manager? Yes, there is. I’ll begin with an experience from a friend of mine.

The Manager Vs. The Employee

My friend, we’ll call him Dave, worked at a cell phone store. He was one of the top salesmen every month. Dave satisfied his customers and managers every day. However, there was a problem.

Dave would sell products that the manager deemed as “less important.” For instance, cell phones and accessories were a lesser priority than selling the company’s television subscriptions. Dave would sell more of the latter and not enough of the former.

The Problem Amplified

Per store policy, salespeople were required to offer a television subscription with every cell phone or accessory purchase. However, Dave would seldomly refer customers to television subscriptions.

Dave’s manager, we’ll call him Todd, decided to convene a sales reps meeting. Todd notified the reps that sales goals would increase, which would make more substantial commission checks harder to get.

Dave got frustrated with the company’s policy on offering television subscriptions because the store’s primary purpose was to sell phones. Or, so Dave thought. When I talked to Dave about this, he expressed his frustrations with the shift toward television subscriptions.

In Dave’s Words

“I would offer [TV subscriptions] because I was required to and would use it to get the customer the best deals, but I wouldn’t push it further if they didn’t want it. [Todd] wanted me to push it until I was blue in the face, but that would make the customer uncomfortable and not want them to come back. It’s about customer service and satisfaction, not about the immediate sale. People come back for good service, which ultimately leads to more money spent at the location.”

As a result, Dave left the store and said that “[Todd] didn’t recognize that customers were people…and he wanted me to just get the sale no matter what it took.”

Difference between a leader and a manager

Photo By Craig Adderly

What’s going on?

Dave and Todd had issues to address.

Dave had a problem. His problem was he didn’t want to oversell television subscriptions. Even though it’s a valid concern, Todd did little to address Dave’s concern.

Instead, Todd provided lesser-important sales goals that didn’t help sales reps succeed, which fostered a more stressful environment.

The Difference Between A Leader And A Manager

There’s a vast difference between leaders and managers. Bosses manage schedules and make sales goals. Anyone could be a boss.

For instance, being a leader requires commitment. Teaching, coaching, and mentoring employees requires dedication and time. Additionally, leaders listen to and collaborate with employees to create the best working environment possible for success.

Going back to Dave and Todd, how could Todd have handled Dave differently? That’s a question you’ll have to answer on your own.

For your reference, here are three things you can do to be a good leader.

Difference between a leader and a manager

Photo by Pixabay

Create A Learning Environment

Have you had a boss like Todd? Learning wasn’t part of the job under Todd.

Instead, foster a collaborative environment. Encourage employees to experiment and develop new ways to approach problems. There’s a book called Upstream by Dan Heath, who emphasizes preventative problem solving before catastrophe strikes.

When employees know they can grow under good leadership, they can take risks to improve the company.

Creating a learning environment for employees means that they can take what they have learned and apply their personality. For instance, the Army does this when they implement Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), which is how a task must happen.

However, SOPs are worthless without Tactics Techniques and Procedures (TTPs), which becomes the work-around if the standard method does not fit a given situation.

Employee Ownership Is Critical

I know the word “ownership” is overused, but there’s a reason. Some mentorship could solve Dave’s issue with pushing television subscriptions on personal accountability.

A leader needs to discuss their concerns with the employee. Using an accurate feedback system would help leaders to guide employee efforts at work. One feedback system includes asking a series of questions. Ask the following after a customer interaction:

– How do you feel that interaction went?

– What do you think went well?

– What do you think went poorly?

– What are you going to fix for the next customer?

Frank Sesno’s Book Ask More highlights questions as a strong technique for producing desired outcomes. With this in mind, questions are the ultimate tool for ownership because they articulate the problem and how to handle it effectively.

Leaders Must Teach, Coach, And Mentor

Leaders do more than give orders. If anything, giving orders is the last thing managers need to do if they train their people right.

After a sale, good leaders discuss the customer interaction with their employees and where to improve. As a result, employees will value their leadership.

If the customer bought something, what did the employee do, or not do, to get the customer to buy? Conversely, what happened that caused the customer not to buy? How can the employee refine their skills?

Asking these questions and other probing questions will help managers understand their employees. Create a collaborative environment that is suitable for teaching and mentoring.


I’ve also experienced Todd-like bosses in the Army too. Leaders are supposed to serve their teams. You’re the servant as the manager, not the boss. As soon as you become a boss, you’ve lost the respect of your subordinates.

Remember, it’s easy to give orders and divvy out tasks. It’s even harder to teach, coach, and mentor a struggling employee.

How can leaders mentor their employees? Let me know in the comments section down below.

Thanks for reading!

Books Mentioned

Upstream by Dan Heath

Ask More by Frank Sesno. Read a review here.

Photo Credit

Featured Image: CoWomen

1: Andrea Piacquadio

2: Craig Adderly

3: Pixabay

4: Andrea Piacquadio


6 thoughts on “What is the Difference Between a Leader and a Manager?”

  1. Great post.

     I have been in management for over 25yrs and as a manager you need to understand that people learn at a different pace. What works for some does not work for all. A good manager will be able to recognize the strength and weakness in your associates.

    There are times when you need to coach an associate, to show them techniques that they can incorporate into their style of work.

    Part of the problem is company’s are quick to hire someone right  out of college, and put them in a position they don’t have the experience for. As a manager you need the experience, back ground and understanding of your associate’s to show them the techniques they need.

    All Dave needed was a coach to show him how to incorporate he’s style of selling, that would have kept the customer happy and not even know the were being sold a tv subscription.

    1. James,

      I appreciate your perspective. Experience does hold weight in the hiring process. Especially when it comes to developing critical skills for a job, like you said. Thank you for your comment!


  2. helloooo dear, tanks alot for sharing such an amazing post with us all, i was actually doing some research online when i saw these post, it really has been an incredible post, i have learnt alot from it,,your website is plain and simple easy to navigate and understand,your choice of words and writing skills  amazing, i really do fancy these post alot thanks i already saved these post so as much as to come back for future reference

    1. Skuchamane,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Leadership is something that is very important for the workplace. And I appreciate your compliments! Thank you for your post!


  3. Hello there, thanks for sharing this interesting and yet educative content out here with us. I really did enjoy going through this review on the difference between a leader and a manager. The story you shared about your friend is really a captivating one and it teaches a lot of life long lessons one needs to be aware of, thanks for sharing this here.

    1. Philebur,

      I’m glad the article helped! Personal stories have a good way of putting things in perspective. Thank you for your comment!


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