Leader or Manager? Would You Know the Difference?

Leader or Manager? Would you know the difference?

‘Leader’ and ‘manager’ are sometimes used as interchangeable terms. But in our opinion, they are very different. Let’s see what one of the world’s great leaders, Martin Luther King Jr, had to say about the matter:


“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a moulder of consensus”


He should know, his “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered during a march on Washington where he called for an end to racism. Over 40 years later the powerful speech still resonates.

What comes out of that phrase for us is the ability to influence, and we’d certainly list that as essential in a great leader. But what else? Here are a few more traits that, during our time working with all levels within the motor industry, we’ve identified within the true leaders we’ve had the pleasure to have worked with.

The ability to inspire

Leaders create a vision of what they see as possible, and engage their team in turning it into reality. Their thinking is not limited by what individuals can do, but instead, they inspire people to be part of something bigger. They understand that effective teams can accomplish a lot more than individuals working autonomously. Managers tend to focus more on setting and measuring objectives. 

The courage to take risks

Leaders never shy away from trying new things and don’t let failure put them off trying again. They understand that every failure is a learning opportunity. Great things don’t happen without a few setbacks along the way. On the other hand, managers are often driven to minimise risk and control potential problems.

The understanding that they can always improve

Whilst managers often focus on perfecting existing skills, leaders seek out new experiences and challenges. They search out situations and other people who will broaden their horizons and constantly question the status quo to see if a better way can be found. Leaders will stretch themselves by actively taking on responsibilities outside of their comfort zone.

An emphasis on relationships

A big focus for a successful leader is people – not just their immediate reports, but all stakeholders whom they need to influence to realise their vision. They focus on building loyalty and trust by showing honesty and integrity. Managers are more analytical, ensuring systems are in place and work with individual team members to meet their goals. Consequently, leaders are followed because of their behaviour and beliefs, whereas loyalty to a manager is probably because they are ‘the boss’.

They are drivers of change

Great leaders are disruptive – in the most positive meaning of the word. Embracing change and driving innovation, they are always looking for better ways to achieve more. They guide their teams through the disruption, understanding that it can cause concern. Managers find a system that works and stick with it, refining proven processes to become more effective.

They think long-term

Leaders have the ability to remain motivated over sustained periods. Their goals may be very long term, yet they remain committed. Managers tend to work on shorter-term goals and are motivated by regular rewards and acknowledgements.


In summary, leaders have people who go beyond following them; they become advocates for them. There isn’t always tangible or formal power that a leader possesses over their followers. Managerial duties are usually a formal part of a job description; subordinates follow as a result of the professional title or designation. A manager’s chief focus is to meet organisational goals and objectives.


Think back to Martin Luther King Jr, and we’re sure you’ll agree he exhibited all of the traits identified. Do you agree? What are the qualities of great leaders you have worked with? We’d love to hear your views.


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