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Manager vs. Leader: Understanding How to Lead in a Business Environment

Leadership consultant and author Warren Bennis once said that the “manager has his eye on the bottom line; the leader has his eye on the horizon.” Through this statement, Bennis creatively articulates the fact that in business environments, management pertains to the study and practice of coordinating companies’ operations, while leadership involves overseeing employees and motivating them to engage with their work. Both of these roles are important to the success of companies in today’s business world and neither role can be considered more important than the other. Completing a Master of Science in Leadership degree can help showcase the difference of a manager vs. leader with a curriculum that focuses on how advanced leadership techniques can be used alongside proven management strategies to help maximize an organization’s efficiencies.

Manager vs. Leader: Style Similarities

The biggest similarity between a manager and a leader is that each strives to facilitate company growth. Managers may choose to do so by cutting costs to improve bottom line profits, while leaders might try to expand the company by focusing on cultivating strong relationships throughout their teams. This diversity of approaches can provide a sense of balance often needed for a company to achieve success. Regardless of their chosen approach, managers and leaders must actively work to make their employees feel comfortable during interactions, as this has a positive impact on employee morale, and, ultimately, stimulates progress towards company objectives. Both roles must exhibit strong communication skills and guide employees toward a fundamental understanding of the goals they are working towards and why said outcomes are important to the organization.

Major Differences

The difference between managers and leaders is that the latter puts a large focus on the human component of the business. This entails acknowledging employees as being unique and valuable for helping achieve organizational goals, as well as determining what type of guidance they need to grow professionally. Managers, on the other hand, tend to adhere to a standard set of rules that are based on management science, the academic discipline that is used to inform management strategy for successful businesses. This requires focusing efforts on creating systems and processes that can be implemented to achieve optimal business outcomes.

Fostering cohesive work relationships between employees is a crucial component of organizational success, and educated leaders understand the value of promoting a company culture that prizes collaboration, teamwork, and communication. Managers often have the capacity to encourage employees to pursue such virtues, but it is business leaders who carry out plans to improve employee relations. If a team communicates and works well together, they grow to trust their leaders, which makes cooperation easier.

Leadership Styles

In order to lead in today’s business environment, there are several managerial styles that leaders can use, each of which applies the tenets of effective leadership in unique ways.

  • Authoritative: Authoritative managers take charge of making company decisions, implementing policies, and controlling business activities. Under this management style, employees are seldom invited to participate in these affairs. This offers the benefit of accelerating the rate at which companies can react to industry changes, but sometimes at the cost of employee job satisfaction. For instance, authoritative managers may struggle to control teams of experienced professionals, because these workers want to contribute their expertise to their employers.
  • Coercive: Like authoritative managers, coercive managers are also known for not seeking employee input when making company decisions. But the coercive management style is more closely tied to those who micromanage their staff and allow them few if any, ability to make thoughtful decisions while at work. They don’t motivate teams to build trusting relationships because they want to control employees’ actions instead. Micromanagers are often associated with high turnover rates because workers are likely to become frustrated with the lack of autonomy.
  • Participative: When managers employ the participative leadership style, they acknowledge the opinions of all stakeholder employees before making critical decisions. This helps build a culture of cooperation and teamwork that usually serves to boost productivity and improve employee satisfaction. Employees tend to respond best to this management style, but there is a catch: it can only be a viable management style if the business is staffed and managed properly.  

Qualities of a Successful Leader

In 2015, management consulting firm McKinsey conducted a survey of 81 organizations from around the world to determine which behaviors were most important to leadership effectiveness. The survey found that the following four behavioral qualities account for 89 percent of leadership effectiveness:

  • Be Supportive — Supportive leaders build up employees by listening to their needs and helping to meet those needs and goals. When employees recognize that their voices are being heard, they are more likely to speak out, which creates more opportunities for innovation and creativity.
  • Operate with Strong Results Orientation — Taking action is important, but results-oriented leadership is critical. Results-oriented leadership implies that leaders focus their efforts on implementing changes that are most likely to provide real value to the organization.
  • Seek Different Perspectives — When managers fail to acknowledge the perspectives of their subordinates, they miss valuable ideas that could be useful in decision-making. Effective leaders will touch base with their employees to get their input on crucial decisions.
  • Solve Problems Effectively — When leaders encounter problems, they gather information about the issue, analyze that information, and synthesize a solution based on their findings. Sharing these solutions with employees can demonstrate progress toward achieving a company’s long-term goals, which could further inspire employees to contribute to organizational success.

As managers and leaders both play critical roles in an organization, it is important to understand the differences and similarities that make each role successful. Earning a Master of Science in Leadership degree can help individuals hone their leadership skills, techniques, and styles to be more effective in their role and help drive organizational success.

Learn More

As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.

Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Leadership program is designed to help you demonstrate the skills and knowledge needed to lead teams and inspire progress, while also growing your career. The program is practical and pertinent, allowing students to apply leadership concepts immediately to their careers.

Recommended Reading

10 Different Types of Leadership Styles

What Is Change Management Consulting?

9 Books for Understanding Leadership Perspectives


Ten Signs Your Boss is a Manager – But Not a Leader, Forbes

9 Differences Between Being a Leader and a Manager, Forbes

Why You Should Stop Being a Boss and Start Being a Leader, Inc.

Decoding Leadership: What Really Matters, McKinsey

The Traits of Leaders Who Do things Fast and Well, Harvard Business Review

Lessons from Leadership Guru Warren Bennis, Inc.


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