Four differences between managers and leaders

There are four distinct differences between leaders and managers. We believe we have a world full of leaders, yet for some strange reason, there are very few managers who are leaders. Those who do meet this criteria, that will be discussed in this blog, are truly a blessing to work with.


While working in the field of Asset Management, formerly known as Maintenance Image courtesy of: ARGand Reliability, for over 30 years, I have worked with my share of managers and leaders. Those who have known me for years know that I started in the field as a Pipefitter Apprentice, worked as a Journeyman and Team Leader for a number of years, did a stint as a Maintenance Supervisor, went to night school to become a Reliability Engineer, and then became a business owner working with customers around the world.

In all this time, I had the pleasure of working with dozens of really good Leaders - from Equipment Operators and Tradespeople to Supervisors and Corporate Executives. I have always said that great Leaders can be found at all levels of every company; the shame is that most are never recognized for the contributions they make in improving equipment or process reliability.

In that same time frame, I have worked with or for hundreds of managers, but only a small handful of them would be what I would consider a Manager.

Having stated this, I see four distinct differences between Leaders and Managers. We believe we have a world full of Leaders, yet for some strange reason, there are very few Managers who are Leaders. Those who do meet this criteria are truly a blessing to work with.

The 4 Differences Between Managers and Leaders

- Leaders are visionaries, Managers are administrators - Leaders despise the status quo; they rarely believe that they themselves or those they work with have done all they can to ensure they make the best products in terms of quality or cost. They are always looking for ways to improve what they make and how they make it and are highly engaged with those responsible for making the product and those charged with keeping the equipment running. Managers administer the goals and direction of their boss; they focus their efforts primarily on controlling costs and obtaining their personal goals. They often lack a thorough understanding of the products they make, the equipment that makes it, and the roles and responsibilities of those are not direct reports.

- Leaders motivate the people they work with, Managers oversee and regulate what people do - Leaders understand what it takes to motivate people and they demonstrate those behaviors on a daily basis. They engage people in conversation, actively listen, and reflect knowing that the ideas that inspire innovation and improvement often come from such conversations. They give credit where credit is due because they know this behavior inspires trust and engagement. The Manager in the meantime is focused on results; how much product did we make, how much overtime did people work, did everyone record their time correctly, and do our numbers look better than last month?

- Leaders take risks based on long-term gains, Managers take risks in hopes of short-term results - The words "continuous improvement" aren't buzz words for the Leader; they are a lifestyle and as a result, they tend to focus on people and behaviors. While the Leader is interested in data, they by far prefer leading indicators to results, preferring to look at the future as opposed to what is already the past. Using these leading indicators, they will invest in new equipment, people, and technology to grow their business and market share. The Manager is focused on day-to-day results, worried that what we did today could have a direct impact on his or her monthly or quarterly goals. As a result, the Manager will often continue to run equipment when proactive technologies have indicated it is in the process of failing, cut or add overtime with little warning, increase production rates to make up for equipment downtime, and focus more time on cutting costs as opposed to improving productivity.

- Leaders encourage and thrive on open debate, Managers provide direction and expect compliance - This is the trait of the Leader that limits his assent up the corporate ladder and, in my opinion, is why we see so few Managers who are great Leaders. The Leader sees debate as an opportunity to learn and teach. They love to be challenged, be it in a public or private setting, and encourage those they work with to do so. They don't believe in the words "that won't work" or "we tried that already" because they have already proven both to be wrong on numerous occasions. They tend to continuously challenge policy or directives that they believe might limit innovation or improvement and view having to lay people off or cut benefits as failures. The Manager simply follows and applies directives while relaying the logic that his managers are smart people who know what needs to be done and how to do it. As a result, he firmly believes he should not challenge corporate policy or directives and that those who work for them should have the same belief. The Manager views any public or private challenge or debate as a threat or insubordinate behavior.

The Rarest of Jewels - The Manager/Leader

The shame of calling out the differences between Leaders and Managers is that they should be one in the same. It would be wonderful if all of our Managers were truly good Leaders, but the harsh reality is that Manager/Leaders are quite rare. The Manager/Leader understands corporate goals, policy, and directives, but understands that in order for him to be successful, he has to be able to motivate and value people. They are able to find a solid balance between driving innovation and improvement and reporting the numbers their managers are interested in. The Manager/Leader has found a way to challenge his Managers without offending them and is careful to let his Leaders know that while he encourages open debate, his managers may not.

The Manager/Leader enjoys the role of being a mentor and knows the importance of building real, lasting relationships that are based on trust and respect. He is able to write detailed performance appraisals without asking his leaders what they have accomplished because he already knows. The Manager/Leader will fight for his leaders when it comes time for promotions and raises, even encouraging them to leave for better opportunities. At the same time, the Manager/Leader will have a difficult time with his own promotion; he will have a difficult time leaving knowing that there is more that can be done to improve. Lastly, the Manager/Leader has high expectations of his employees and at the same time, will model the behaviors he expects to see and is very effective at eliminating poor performers.

JEFF , MS, United States, 12/08/14 12:50 PM:

Dear Mr. Plucknette, I thoroughly enjoyed your article and agree whole-heartely. In the 4th difference, you used the word assent. I believe you intended to use the word ascent. May you write many more articles.
Anonymous , 12/09/14 07:05 PM:

amazing day ahead!
i am truly amazed and can relate to your article,i am a production group/team leader for quite sometime.i am planning to translate this into powerpoint as knowledge sharing module if its ok with you,because i am into training section now.please allow me to share this article to my colleagues.thank you
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