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Are You a Manager or a Leader? Here's How to Tell the Difference. Traits of a great leader are a world away from those of a good manager.

By William Vanderbloemen Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Within any organization, systems and structure is required to ensure that all the trains run on time. Having an applied universal system in which all members can follow and abide by is a great way to uphold standards, increase accountability and promote unity. You need people whose responsibility is carrying out these systems and assuring that they are implemented properly. Throughout time, these people have held many different names and titles -- chief, official, lord and duke, just to name a few. In today's day and age, we have added new positions to the list, such as supervisor, CEO or manager.

While the names attached to these positions of power are constantly shifting and fluctuating, there is one title that has transcended the years and remains the same -- leader.

Related: Ever Talk About Non-Work Stuff With Your Employees? Do It. They Will Love You.

The reason for this is that a leader can accomplish things that none of these other positions can. Leaders possess unique qualities and traits which prevent them from being molded or classified as simply a supervisor or manager. Here are a few of these qualities.

1. Followers versus subordinates

Managing those below you means overseeing your subordinates. Delegating responsibilities, designating tasks and expecting results in return is the way in which a manager operates. Those working under a manager will do what they are told, not because of any blinding devotion, but in expectation of a reward, be it money, accolades or a possible promotion.

In contrast, the most obvious and apparent indicator of a leader is one who has followers. A leader does not have people below them but rather people behind them. Those who work for a true leader are constantly encouraged and inspired, and this is the driving factor behind their work. When you have followers instead of subordinates, they will strive to go above and beyond to achieve a goal, will stay loyal to you through the ups and downs, and will, most importantly, place their trust in you.

2. Sustainer versus grower

When a manager is considering how best to achieve their goals, they are usually concerned with sustaining whatever it is they are managing. That is to say, they think of the best ways to maintain the system in which they find themselves. While there is not necessarily anything wrong with this, it does not leave much room for advancement or expansion.

If you are only concerned with how to keep things running the same way, you will become stagnant and, consequently, invite others to surpass you. A leader is someone who is constantly looking forward. They are innovators who possess a growth mindset and are not comfortable with simply performing at the same level.

Marshall Goldsmith says it best in his book, What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful. Sometimes the systems and strategies that got you to where you are will not take you to the next level. Managers sustain what they have, and leaders shift and change to take their team to the next level. Each day we get older, we become less flexible. Leaders who grow people and organizations know that and try to become more agile each day. When a leader is in charge, they will strive to venture into uncharted territory and reach heights that others may not even think possible.

Related: Lead With Thoughts of Abundance, Not Scarcity

3. Systems versus people

A good manager knows how to work within a system and ensure that others are doing the same. With that being said, their main concern is to perfect the system and then to work different people into it. On the other hand, leaders put people first and create systems to support the people themselves. Leaders have the ability to relate with and understand people. This skill means that they can get the best out of those that they work with, and adjust the system accordingly.

Focusing on the team members who are actually doing the work gives you access to a wealth of knowledge and potential that a set of rules, company policy or handbook, could never provide.

Looking at these traits, it is easy to understand why the title of leader stands in a category of its own. A manager serves an important role and is vital to organizational success, but a true leader is invaluable. Knowing the difference between the two is imperative. If you can recognize and understand what it takes to be a leader, you can then use that knowledge to develop your own leadership skills as well as the skills of the people around you.

It is also important to realize that although these traits can and should be found in every leader, there is no universal handbook to leadership. We are all individuals with our own backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, it is inevitable that everyone's leadership style will be different. Herein lies the beauty of leadership. To be a proper manager, you must follow the rules and keep the order as best as possible. To be a leader, however, you have to think creatively, add your own personal flair and inspire as many people to join you as possible along the way.

Related: 5 Ways to Take the Wind Out of Your Future Leaders' Sails

William Vanderbloemen

Author and President, CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group

William Vanderbloemen is the author of Next: Pastoral Succession That Works and president and CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group, a for-profit startup that leads in executive search for churches, ministries and faith-based organizations.

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