What’s The Difference Between A Leader And A Manager?

leader vs manager
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Are you a manager or a leader? A manager is a person who typically possesses the ability to make strong decision-making, with a proven record of managing projects and meeting deadlines. In addition, they are often regarded as knowledge experts in their field, enabling them to get promoted. 

Nevertheless, one in two employees had left their jobs because of their manager at some point in their career, from Gallup research with 7,272 US employees 1.

Despite the HR efforts to prioritize employee experience and conduct frequent employee feedback to create a positive and cultivating work culture, employees are still leaving the company due to poor management. 

Therefore, a manager who is good at work tasks and achievements might not be similarly good at managing people or being a leader to coach and inspire the team to success.  

Understanding toxic leadership

Before discussing the differences between a leader and a manager, it is crucial to understand the darkest side of the worst management style, the toxic leadership style.

Toxic leaders often carry self-interest in their hearts, forbidding team members to thrive and, in the long term, causing a destructive effect on the members by lowering their self-morale and exhausting their enthusiasm.

According to Schmidt, there are generally 5 types of toxic leadership behaviors 2


The 4 key differences between a leader vs manager

1. Improves weaknesses vs focuses on strengths

"A manager focuses on pointing out employees' weaknesses, hoping they will change, but a leader understands the tactic of empowering through strengthening and utilizing their strengths".

Conventionally, during a performance review, managers focus on highlighting the employee's weaknesses on correcting them so that employees can improve their work quality and believe they can excel with this approach. 

Therefore, employees have traditionally concentrated on fixing their weaknesses in the expectation of gaining a better score in their performance appraisal. 

However, recent studies suggest that a leader who focuses on employees' strengths is in a  better position to win than if they focus on addressing and emphasizing employees' deficiencies.  

Aligning with Gartner's advice on developing human-centric metrics that improve employee engagement and establishing deeper connections by understanding employees' needs, employee experience plays a significant role in building a successful company by retaining all the best employees. 

AYP advice: 

If you think your employees have specific areas of weaknesses to be improved, try to divert your attention to focus on capitalizing on their strengths instead. 

2. Focus on work efficiency vs empowerment

"A manager focuses on work efficiency such as getting things done and meeting deadlines, but a leader will focus on empowering their employees." 

A leader's involvement can assist in creating a positive employee experience in an employee's lifecycle in the company from hiring to the employee's departure. 

In fact, according to Gallup research 3, the manager alone accounts for 70% of the variance in team engagement. From the employee journey, engagement happens before the performance because engaged employees are more likely to achieve better performances. 

Subsequently, development happens after the performance because when the employees perform well due to positive and meaningful feedback, they will be optimistic about how their strengths benefit the company's goals.

We know that revenue comes no.1, managers often feel immense pressure to hit revenue targets and goals dictated by the stakeholders. Due to this, meetings are usually conducted with a top-down approach to track employee performances without regard for how employees feel and inspiring positive change. 

As a leader, consider whether you are building strong relationships among your team. Are you motivating your team to build on their strengths and work with a purpose? If the answer is no, you should consider whether you exert too much control over the work situation.

Motivation comes from working on things we care about, but it also comes from working with people we care for. Learn the 10 career advice.

AYP advice: 

Working to meet deadlines and achieve work efficiencies are important, but empowering your employees to feel valued and motivated can significantly improve the work efficiencies and quality that you wish to see.  


3. Develop processes and tasks vs develop people

Is developing processes or developing people easier?

The answer is processes because processes are generally more predictable and have clear rules and instructions. 

Since managers often possess the capability to assign tasks and ensure that performance meets the objectives, they often get promotions due to this skill set. Therefore, they prioritize task settings, goals, bottom line and analytical components. 

In other words, they often neglect that the need to coach and develop people is more crucial than performance management in achieving long term goals.

On the other hand, developing people is about more than just tweaking and alternating the process, like modifying tasks or goals. People are complex; everyone owns unique personalities, experiences, and motivations. 

In the athlete world, a good coach knows how to use good motivation tactics without negative reinforcement for the team members to reach their full potential and to think outside of their mental comfort zone for breakthroughs. 

"Coaching builds relationships and should be a leader's priority."


AYP advice: 

Believe that the team you have hired has the answers and capabilities to solve problems, and view them as competent individuals who can produce optimal results. Please resist the temptation to tell your team members every detail about what and how to do their job.

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4. Confident in your role vs confident in your team

"Managers are more confident with their position, but leaders are proud of their team."

One of the main dangers of management is micromanaging. Micromanaging managers are authoritarian leaders, which is one of the 5 toxic leadership behaviors stated previously.

Why do managers micromanage? 

The primary root cause is the fear of losing influence and the status of being part of the management team; secondly, lacking leadership skills and trust towards the subordinates.  

When managers micromanage, it produces conflicting energies, making team building and empowerment impossible.

Here is a checklist to check whether you are micromanaging your team:


On the contrary, a leader will know how to create a vision and purpose for the team, authorize a certain level of autonomy to the team members and take pride in whatever way the team performs their jobs. 

According to a survey of 1,380 Taiwan staff from the American society of employers 4, employees who felt they were given more autonomy at work reported higher employee satisfaction, enjoyed their jobs more and were less likely planning to leave their positions. 

A champion doesn't need to aggressively prove that he is the champion if he already is. A true leader will prefer to lead from behind instead of standing in the front. Learn what is leading from the back.

AYP advice:

A leader leads with influence, not authority. Leadership is an action, not a position. When you feel positive and confident with your team, empowerment happens, and you will see positive changes.

Let AYP help you to nurture your team

Are you a manager or a leader? We understand how hard leadership can be if your company is growing aggressively. So here is how we can offer as an employer of record (EOR): 

  • EOR solutions in APAC: Manages more than 130+ payroll currencies according to the countries' labor law.  
  • We have more than 100+ payroll and legal experts.
  • We help companies create a remote work environment and build business presences across the APAC region. 
  • We act as your legal employer and handle employee-related matters so you can focus on your core business operation and plans for customer satisfaction and growth. 
  • As your outsourcing HR partner (PEO), we free up your HR time and resources, which helps to bring a positive impact on your company culture. 
  • Hire anyone, onboard anywhere, manage and pay anytime; this is AYP's brand promise. 

Get a FREE customized solution now. 

Are you interested in more business expansion and leadership topics?  

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