Managers & Leaders

By Mark Grzeskowiak

Are managers and leaders different? Or is it just a difference in lingo, with the old-school dinosaurs choosing “managers” and the modern thinkers choosing “leaders”? In reality, there’s a lot of overlap between the two. And today, some companies no longer use the term “manager,” but call their managers “people leaders.”


Modern managers first appeared when industrialists moved the various stages of a manufacturing industry under one roof in a single factory. Ensuring that everything ran smoothly involved overseeing the entire operation, and managing people from a variety of technical and professional backgrounds, often on the same shop floor. Pulling this off required more than just the ability to make people do things. It required knowledge of a variety of technical skills, and the ability to apply that knowledge towards a common goal.

Management theorists like Peter Drucker believe that the function of a manager is, above all else, to manage and develop people, and be sensitive to their values and needs. It’s true that a manager has to know about the bottom line, the industry, and the competition, in order to be successful. But in terms of the daily work, it’s far more important that a manager knows how to motivate, inspire, and persuade employees to do their best possible work. For these reasons, Drucker sees management as a liberal art that requires a knowledge of a variety of areas, including economics, psychology, emotional intelligence, group dynamics, organizational development, and organizational culture.


Leaders also have a sense of the day-to-day, but leaders additionally have their eyes on the bigger picture – trends, competition, innovations, technologies. They know what’s out there, and how it is impacting, or will impact their company’s short-term and long-term future. Will that technology revolutionize the way care is provided? Will the innovation change how people travel from home to work? Or will it be a fashion trend, soon to be replaced by something better, that actually works?

So we’ve arrived at the factor that distinguishes a manager from a leader: A leader must have foresight. The leader is the person with vision.

The best leaders not only have a knowledge about what’s going on outside – about the competition, the latest advances in technology, and so on – but they have an understanding of their company and its employees. This combined knowledge, when shared with staff, enables employees to look beyond their daily routines and tasks and see the broader context of what they do. The best leaders know that job satisfaction isn’t about money alone, it’s also about feeling that you are contributing, and having a sense of worth.

In a small workplace, particularly an entrepreneurial workplace, the manager and leader are usually one and the same. The person in charge must know all about the business and the competition, as well as be able to manage relationships with the employees.

In a large workplace, the manager and leader are usually separate people. The manager handles everyone on the shop floor, in the department, or on the unit, and the leader looks at costs, threats, growth, and the bottom line. The leader looks at where things are going, and when, if, or how the organization should act or react. In too large of an organization, the leader may be out of touch with the staff, while a manager may be out of touch with the reality of costs or sustainability of service.

Explaining the People Leader

A composite figure, in which the manager and leader are one, is best. Similar to the Freudian ego and superego, the manager (the ego) grounds the leader’s flights of fancy, while the leader (the superego) prevents the manager from failing to act.

Ultimately, without a sense of vision – an eye for possibilities, and understanding of change, advantage, and risk – a business will stagnate or fail. And without people skills, the leader may lead, but who will follow?