Great Managers VS. Great Leaders – Week 7

After reading that title, you’re probably expecting me to lecture about how leaders are far superior to managers. We’ve seen the motivational posters and photos across the Internet that label managers as a step-below the much coveted leader, and we’ve been told that managers are short-term minded, rule oriented individuals whereas leaders are charged with the noble task of inspiring people to complete a goal. It all sounds good on a poster, but is that really all there is to it? Do managers represent the old-style of business, while leaders are ushering in the future?

We need great managers, and we need great leaders, too.

The fight between which of the two roles and titles is superior tends to push each person to an extreme. In this wave of modern wisdom, managers are awful and leaders are awesome. We’ve heard popular sayings like “Managers do things right. Leaders do the right things.” But as with many things in life, the truth isn’t quite so obvious, nor does it lie at either end of the spectrum but rather closer towards the middle. In reality, there is a place for both types of people in business. Managers have a set of responsibilities, tasks, resources, and knowledge – and leaders also have a set of responsibilities, tasks, resources, and knowledge. But now that we’ve framed the plot and argument, lets dive into the specifics.

So, what is the difference?

Great managers look inward. Great leaders look outward. That’s what the Gallup authors of First, Break All The Rules say. They explain their perspective in the excerpt below:

“The most important difference between a great manager and a great leader is one of focus. Great managers look inward. They look inside the company; into each individual; into differences in the style, goals, needs and motivation of each person. These differences are small and subtle, but great managers need to pay attention to them. These subtle differences guide them towards the right way to release each person’s unique talents into performance.

Great leaders, by contrast, look outward. They look out at the competition, out at the future and out at alternative routes forward. They focus on broad patterns, finding connections and cracks, and then they press home their advantage where the resistance is weakest. They must be visionaries, strategic thinkers and activators. When played well, this is, without a doubt, a critical role. But it doesn’t have much to do with the challenge of turning one individual’s talents into performance.”

Which one are you? A manager or a leader?

Or maybe you’re even both? That is possible, too. But being either one is nothing to be ashamed of.  From personal experience I can attest to having met both types of people. Some of the managers I have worked with are wonderful at what Gallup calls the “catalyst role” which is simply the following: select a person, set expectations, motivate the person and develop the person. On the other hand, I have met others that are far better at pioneering the vision and external opportunities of a venture.

So which do you aspire to be?


Clifton, Don. (2010). First, Break All The Rules. New York, NY: Gallup Press.

What did you think? Leave some feedback! :)

5 thoughts on “Great Managers VS. Great Leaders – Week 7

  1. Austin,
    I am a great Manager but want to be a Great Leader.
    Managers are more routine and methodical.
    Leaders are more of a live wire with great ideas that succeed more than fail.
    Leaders go out on a limb where managers are more reliable.

  2. I am a great manager but work on the leader. I teach at High Point University and the president is an awesome leader. In the 10 years he has been president he has made tremendous changes. He’s the big picture guy. My chair is the great manager. He is paying attention to the professors under him. We definetely need both.

  3. I am a great leader and manager! I look at the outward need to grow my business so that I can look for the great managers to run that inner part of the organization. Sometimes you as a leader have to have a balance of both to be able to understand the needs both inner and the outer processes.

  4. I agree, we need both great managers and great leaders. I’m not sure which one I would say I am. Maybe a little bit of both. I really need to add this book to my reading list. You always share thought provoking posts, thank you!

  5. Great post –
    This post has be doing a little inside examination; great question. However, I am willing to learn who I am through this process. Excited for this journey – thanks for the invitation.

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