The 5 Things That Separate True Leaders From Managers

Yes, there is a difference between managing and leading, and understanding it can only serve you, your business, and your employees well.

The 5 Things That Separate True Leaders From Managers
[Photo: Martin Barraud/Getty Images]

Do you think leadership and management mean the same thing? If you do, keep reading—knowing the difference will make your job more fun, boost your staff’s morale, and could even make you more money.


The mistake many entrepreneurs make as their companies grow is focusing on how to manage their workers. They devise elaborate ways for teams to collaborate and communicate, dream up long- and short-term goals to set checkpoints and monitor when and how they are met, and focus intensely on office infrastructure.

In this all-too-common rush to expand bosses often forget to develop their leadership strategy. A more nebulous concept, leadership refers to the higher-level thinking: What are our overall goals? How would my ideal representative present himself? And how can I make it second nature for my employees to embody that model?

Here are the first steps you need to take to reverse-engineer your management style into one that is centered on leadership.

1. Identify Your Company’s Mission Statement And Values

Your public-facing mission statement may simply describe what your company does, but internally you should have a more big-picture goal that you and your employees are working toward, both literally and philosophically.

Your company’s values should be aligned with, and contribute to, that overall goal, and you should see it reflected back to you in the individuals and teams you manage.

The most effective way to communicate this is by example. Rigorously analyze your own actions and choices, and make sure to evaluate even the most routine everyday decisions against how they support that overarching goal.


2. Stratify Leadership Levels

Just as you are inspired and motivated by the responsibility of your leadership role, your standout employees can be equally driven by a division of power and management responsibility. Don’t be afraid to delegate–rewarding good work with added responsibilities can lead to even better returns.

“The best way to lead is to empower: no more top management with resources at their disposal,” explains Wow Vapor CMO Hank Ostholthoff. “Successful organizations should employ smart creatives that know how to deliver and use bosses as a resource to ping ideas and direction, not the other way around.”

3. Hire With Intention

While it’s not exceptionally challenging to realign your team members to your company’s refocused goals, it’s infinitely easier to surround yourself with people who mesh with those goals and expectations from the start.

Make all future hiring decisions with an eye toward that mission statement, and choose new employees that understand and are excited by those objectives. Don’t fall into the trap of being wooed by experience or clout alone–be aware of the skill sets and personalities already represented in your workplace and find people that fit idealistically but can fill complementary gaps.

No matter how effective or impressive a single puzzle piece may be, you can’t get the whole picture without differently shaped pieces in the mix.

4. Balance Your IQ With An EQ

One of the major differences between leadership and management is defined outside of the boardroom and in the unspoken footnotes of progress reports. A good manager may be intelligent with a high IQ, but a strong leader needs to also be emotionally intelligent, with a high EQ, and lead with heart.


Go the extra mile to show your team you care about them and value them as people above their work. Encourage and reward them when they demonstrate examples of living the company’s mission statement and demonstrating their values, even if it’s unrelated to the task at hand.

Scotty Greenburg, senior marketing manager at Tango Card, says his company has gone out of its way to create “an extremely supportive culture, including one-on-one meetings, company-wide weekly feedback, and peer-to-peer recognition,” he said.

“Everyone in the company is empowered to give feedback and shape company decisions by standing tall in one-on-one meetings with team leaders or through weekly feedback surveys. We also have enabled lightweight peer-to-peer recognition and rewards tools, which allow anyone to recognize anyone with a cheers or an e-gift card with one of our core company values attached. The result is an empowered, transparent, and productive environment.”

5. Transparency, Transparency, Transparency

When you were a child, did the explanation “because I said so” provide a satisfactory reason for you to behave? Even as a kid it probably frustrated you and failed to encourage the kind of long-term behavioral changes your parents wanted to enact.

True growth and change must come from a place of understanding, which is why it’s important whenever possible to explain the reasoning behind your actions to your employees. This includes explaining–as much as you are able–major changes or decisions that are influencing new directives and explaining your own perspective, responsibilities, and experiences. It also includes admitting fault, being willing to ask questions, and not being afraid to pivot in light of new information.

Employees will work infinitely harder for someone they trust than for someone they may admire or respect, but feel disconnected to. Honesty is key–lasting office culture changes evolve from answering the question “why.”


About the author

Barry S. Saltzman is CEO of Saltzman Enterprise Group and Partner at Culture Measures, a business focused on turning the art of culture into a science


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