7 Distinctions Between a Good Manager and Good Leader

August 20, 2020

Although many characteristics of a good manager and a good leader overlap, distinctions between the two are becoming important to recognize in today’s business climate. A good manager is not automatically a good leader, and a good leader is not always called to manage. One person can be both, however, with learned skills and effective practice.

Successful leaders may have started careers as an employee and progressed into roles that included supervisory. To prepare for this role, formal education may have been provided that included management or leadership. Other individuals may have learned through experience. This may have meant learning by observing the successes and failures and developing an approach to supervising employees. Often, skills may have been obtained by mirroring a leadership style that we embraced. A mentor may have suggested management tactics based upon a positive perception of his or her style. Sometimes, an employee may have worked under a manager and learned what not to do by experiencing an ineffective leadership style.

What Qualities Does a Good Manager vs. a Good Leader possess?

Here is a list of Seven Distinct Traits that are easily recognizable

  1. Direct vs. Connect

A manager directs a team to complete a task, explains how the job should be completed, and is concerned with the responsibility of ensuring tasks meeting their deadlines. A leader connects with his or her team and empowers a trusted employee to allows the employee to feel empowered, resulting in feeling a sense of responsibility to take the task to completion.

  1. Goals Vs. Vision

A manager has specific goals to accomplish that can be easily quantified and understood by a manager’s direct reports. A leader has a larger vision and inspires and motivates others to act on that vision. But they may not break it down into smaller goals to others to help them achieve the mission. Instead, he or she is more likely to collaborate with team members to create a plan to achieve the overarching goal, typically bigger than a project or task.

  1. Status Quo Vs. Change Management

A manager may be content with maintaining the status quo. The focus on day-to-day tasks is at the forefront, and the manager’s day is filled with checking in with employees, keeping tasks on track and on time, and solving problems that arise throughout the workday. A leader looks at the bigger picture and works to inspire those around her to bring ideas to the table for the greater good of the organization. This individual helps the organization to function more efficiently and spend time motivating others to add process improvements that make the business more efficient.

  1. Control vs. Inspire

Control is an intriguing concept. Without some degree of control, tasks would not be completed, customers would not be serviced, and bills would not be paid. The overall result could mean a loss of revenue.

The degree to which the manager controls projects and the performance of employees varies from manager to manager.

Too much control leads to employee frustration. The manager may end up with a reputation of a micromanager and the workplace culture is adversely impacted.

Too little oversight may lead to production and respect issues.  A leader, not as focused on day-to-day tasks, is seeking to ignite a fire and motivate his team to perform for the greater good of the organization. This can in turn serve the employee’s best interests, as well.

Balance is key.

  1. Recognition vs. Conversions

Giving recognition, even for simple tasks, allows an employee to feel positive about their work. It provides an incentive for continued high performance. Simple things like a verbal compliment could be a great motivator. A manager is often very task-oriented. He or she is responsible for ensuring that the job gets done right and on time. This typically leads to hyper-focusing on due dates, quality, and attendance. When the project is complete, the manager is checking items for the next project and may need to pause and provide a job well done. The manager is often measured on a specific conversion which may include hitting sales goals or making a deadline that he or she is not focused on providing that recognition that could result in less oversight in the future and a different overall focus.

  1. Delegation vs. Coaching

Managers learn early on that they must delegate tasks. Things need to be done, and a manager cannot do everything themselves. They delegate assignments to employees while maintaining responsibility for progress.  A leader may delegate as well, but the distinction lies in how they coach: asking questions instead of giving answers, supporting employees instead of judging them, and facilitating staff development instead of dictating how to complete tasks. This style of coaching may be executed by providing options or suggestions on how to reach the goal of the assignment or explaining the impact of the project. Hence, the employee grasps the implications of his or her work and becomes personally invested in the outcome.

  1. Listening vs. Empathy

A good manager will listen to his or her employees.  Active listening is an excellent skill to hone for any manager. However, a leader provides empathetic statements when listening to an employee’s concerns, validating them, and ensuring that they feel heard. Listening is a wonderful quality but increasing communication skills that include understanding and offering solutions reflect the qualities of a good leader. If possible, he or she will make changes that address the employee’s needs. For example, a change in the employee’s schedule may result in an employee that is less stressed and more productive.

Can a good manager be a good leader? 

Absolutely! In fact, in today’s modern world, it is necessary to be both, as employees are savvy and crave good leadership as well as needed supervision.

Do you strive to be a better leader?

Here are a few ideas as to how you can improve your leadership role:

Decision Making

Empower your staff by providing them with tools to become better decision-makers. Invest in your people, mentor them, and provide training to strengthen their problem-solving skills.

Job Titles

Reevaluate the job titles of your staff. You may discover better descriptions of the purpose of your employee’s roles. You may even consider doing something bold, like removing job titles!

Employee Development

Employee development is important at every level and can take many forms, but you may need to think outside the box of ways to provide further development at an affordable cost.  Consider an online learning management system if sending them to conferences or outside training is cost-prohibitive.  Your organization may have a collection of books you’ve used for development that you can lend out and discuss with your staff.

Development should be a part of your regular evaluation process to keep you aware of who is willing to learn and grow with your company.


When employees understand their role and the significant impact that it has on the organization, community, and/or customers they work with, he or she will feel vested, important, and willing to put forth an effort to ensure quality work. Highlighting employee impacts in regular meetings will help to create a more productive workforce.

Do you strive to be a better manager?

Improving your management skills may mean evaluating the following:

Clear Goals

Break goals down into specific assignments to individual employees with due dates.  Clearly communicate goals and objectives to staff, checking in with them to confirm understanding and clear up questions.

Project Management Methods

Implementing a system that includes software to keep track of due dates may help ensure that deadlines are met and employee performance is tracked.

Implementation of a Recognition Program

It does not need to be anything elaborate. Still, a means of showing appreciation consistently can be a great way to boost morale and keep employees productive.  Be sure to spread the recognition around, and do not play favorites.

PaySmart is a payroll provider located in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, supporting small businesses in the Central PA region. We are dedicated to helping small businesses take care of their payroll needs. To learn more information about how PaySmart may provide payroll solutions, please contact 717-766-1777. Our New Client Concierge is waiting for you!