What is the Difference Between a Leader and a Manager?

I’ll begin with an experience from a friend of mine.

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, by default, made his managers happy as well. But there was a problem.

Dave would sell mostly cell phones and accessories instead of pushing the company’s TV subscriptions as well.

The store had a policy with every sale that Dave must also push the TV subscription since TV contracts were worth the most. Dave’s manager emphasized TV contracts over phone sales. However, Dave reiterated how the customer didn’t want TV since they had subscription-based entertainment.

Dave’s manager, we’ll call him Todd, had a meeting with all the sales reps on the team. Todd said that everyone has to offer TV subscriptions to each customer who buys a phone. Also, sales goals were going to increase, which would make more substantial commissions checks harder to get.

Dave got frustrated with the company pushing the TV subscriptions because the store’s primary purpose was to sell phones. When I talked to Dave about this, he said:

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.

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

What’s going on?

There are always multiple sides to the story. However, both Dave and Todd had issues to address.

Dave had a problem. His problem was he didn’t want to push the TV subscriptions. It’s not a complicated issue, but Todd could have led Dave through it. Instead of providing mentorship and guidance, Todd forced Dave to push TV subscriptions. Todd’s problem was he was unsure how to help Dave overcome his issue. Instead, Todd relied on brute force to compel Dave to submit.

There’s a vast difference between a boss and a manager. A boss makes the schedule, orders employees to do tasks, and makes sure the company runs smoothly. I’ll argue that being a boss is easy. However, it’s much harder to teach employees tactfully.

Being a manager is so much more. Managers are teachers, coaches, and bosses all at the same time. The boss is entirely responsible for the successes and failures of a team. When employees have issues, it’s the boss’s job to provide guidance and direction.

What’s the best way to handle this? Dave could have done so well and possibly moved up in the company. However, people usually leave companies because of their bosses. Why did Dave have to go even though he was so successful? Here’s my take:

Create a learning environment

Have you had a manager like Todd? I think it’s common in the workplace. Managers have the responsibility to their company goals, but their employees are the ones who achieve the goals.

Each employee has a way to make a sale. That doesn’t mean people can’t learn; it means that managers have the best perspective on helping an employee grow. When employees know they can grow under good leadership, they can experiment with techniques that either work or not.

Creating a learning environment for employees means that they can take what they have learned and apply their personality. The Army does this when they implement Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), which is the way a task must happen. However, SOPs are worthless without and 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. Dave’s issue with pushing TV subscriptions could be solved by buying into Todd’s advice. When employees have accountability issues, the manager needs to navigate their concerns with the employee. Accountability is also critical for the salesperson, but the manager must instill that into the employee.

Employees need a sense of ownership. Managers can help them accomplish that by asking essential questions to their subordinates. Ask technical questions, investigative questions, and curiosity questions to get a feel for the customer’s needs and wants. Knowing these things, Dave could then pitch the TV subscription.

Frank Sesno’s Book Ask More outlines appropriate questions in specific situations. Questions are the ultimate tool for ownership. Once employees correctly diagnose a problem, they can find a solution. Managers can groom employees with their experience in asking the right questions.

Managers must teach, coach, and mentor

Managers 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, managers should be pulling their employees aside and do informal assessments of how things went with the customer.

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? Doing role plays can help. Rehearse with employees to create a habit.

Asking these questions and other probing questions will help managers understand their employees. However, managers have to do this with a learning approach. Managers have to approach the employee with a genuine concern for the employee’s growth, not for the manager’s aggrandizement.


These are things I noticed when I get stories like this. I’ve also experienced this in one way or another in the Army, too. Being a manager isn’t for you. It’s for those you serve. 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 a concept, let someone fail so they can learn, and reassess after the fact.

How would you have solved this? How can managers mentor their employees and help them ask the right questions? Let me know in the comments section down below.

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

  1. James B says:

    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. Robert says:


      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. Skuchmane says:

    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. Robert says:


      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. Philebur says:

    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. Robert says:


      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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