Leader vs Manager: Traits, Qualities and Characteristics

Leader Vs Manager: Traits, Qualities, And Characteristics

Two Fundamental Types of People: We Need Both

Leader vs Manager is perhaps a debate that's as old as the history of modern business organization. Both of these terms are somewhat nebulous with many definitions.

This article starts with a simple self-assessment that helps you determine whether you are predominantly a leader or a manager. Next, it defines what leadership and management are and compares and contrasts their traits, characteristics and qualities. It also provides some resources for further exploration, study and reference.

A word of caution: It's wrongly assumed by many that leaders are somehow "better" than managers or that managers should try to be leaders. Both have their value in the world. Please make sure that you answer the questions with brutal honesty with yourself.

The best place to start reading this article is to take the simple assessment below.

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Leader vs Manager: Traits and Characteristics

In my experience in working with leaders and managers, I have found that most people are predisposed from their early childhood, maybe even from birth, to be either a leader or a manager.

That's not to say that a person can't acquire the skills to be one or the other, only that to most people one is more natural than the other. This is why a person would be naturally attracted to either being a manager or a leader.

Following are some traits and qualities that make leaders and managers predisposed to be one or the other.

Leadership vs Management Personality Traits

Please note, in the table below:

The orange color denotes Leadership Personality Traits.

The blue color denotes Management Personality Traits.

Leadership Personality Traits

Management Personality Traits

"Are We in the Right Jungle?"

Cutting Trees Efficiently

Big Picture

Detail Oriented



Internal Frame of Reference

External Frame of Reference

Forge Vision

Follow Vision

Vision, Strategy, Execution

Goals, Projects, Tasks

Goose: Production Capacity

Golden Eggs: Productivity, Production

Visionary, Dreamer, Romantic

Grounded, Realistic, Practical

Right Brain/Lateral Thinking

Left Brain/Linear Thinking

People are the Reason

People are the Means


Process, Results

Intuitive: Seek Internal Guidance

Sensing: Seek External Data



People More Important than Task

Task More Important than People

Panoramic Vision

Tunnel Vision

Leader vs Manager: Commonalities and Differences

Leaders and managers share six things in common. They differ, however, in how they deal with those six things.

1. People

Both leaders and managers work with people. However, for a leader, people are the reason, the cause for whom an endeavor is taken on, a vision attained or a project completed. For a manager, people are primarily a means to achieve a significant achievement, accomplishing an important task or completing a project.

2. Reality

Both managers and leaders understand that there is a collective condition, a Reality, that's unacceptable to a group of people. A leader's intention, however, is to help those people believe in the Vision of a solution to their Reality. The manager's intention is to motivate them on a gradual path to a Vision.

3. Vision

People often form a Vision of how they want things to be, which is important to both leaders and managers. Leaders help people forge a shared vision that they believe in and communicate it back to them to get their agreement. Managers help people make that Vision actionable by breaking it down in incremental goals, projects and tasks and providing the necessary resources for moving forward in the direction of the Vision.

4. Gap or Cognitive Dissonance

The gap between the Reality and the Vision, also known as Cognitive Dissonance in psychology, gives rise to an endeavor. Leaders use Cognitive Dissonance to help people carve out a path from Reality to Vision that they can believe in. Managers use Cognitive Dissonance to help people take specific action steps on a specific path.

5. Path

Both leaders and managers understand that people need to choose a common path to go from their Reality to their Vision. Once the path is chosen, leaders make certain that people remain on the right path to the right Vision. Managers, however, make sure that their progress on that path is pursued efficiently - as quickly as possible and at the minimum expenditure of resources.

6. A Higher Purpose (Optional)

People often share a sense of mission or purpose that transcends the avoidance of Reality and achieving of a Vision. Both leaders and managers make use of Higher Purpose. Leaders bring out the best in people, their higher angels, so they will give their whole beings to the achievement of the Vision. Managers tap into people's higher purpose and transform it into a selfless sense of persistence, endurance and perseverance.

Agree or Disagree? "...most people are predisposed from their early childhood, maybe even from birth, to be either a leader or a manager."

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Which Trait, Quality, or Characteristic Defines You as a Leader or a Manager?

Do you agree with your assessment as a leader or a manager?

Is there a trait or a quality in you that identifies you as a leader or a manager?

Please share in the comments section below one quality that defines you as either a leader or a manager.

More importantly, tell us one insight you are taking away with you from this article (and from the quiz) about being a leader versus being a manager.

Strategy Vs Tactics: Which One Does Your Business Need?

Depending on your proclivity as a leader vs manager, you may be inclined to pursue either strategic or tactical approaches to developing your business, organization or team. This can turn into a blind-spot for your professional development as well as the development of your organization.

Bringing awareness to your tendencies in using strategy vs tactics can open up options in developing your organization that you may not have considered before. 

I have written an article that highlights what it means to be either strategic or tactical in leading and managing your teams and developing your business. Click the button below to read the article. 

  • Mohamed Jamal says:

    thanks for the comprehensive covering of the insight of leaders and managers. it’s really helpful.
    thanks again.

    • Bhavesh Naik says:

      You are very welcome. Thank you for stopping by. If you have any specific questions regarding leader vs manager, please do not hesitate to reach out.

  • Sapna Arora says:

    Bhavesh Naik, thank you for an interesting and insightful read. ‘We need both leaders and managers’ stood out for me.
    Thanks again!

    • Bhavesh Naik says:

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your insight, Sapna.

      The fact that we need both leaders and managers is an important insight. Lately, a misconception seems to have taken hold that managers need to be leaders or that when a manager “graduates,” she becomes a leader. This view, in my experience, is not beneficial to organizations and prevents them from developing managerial skills that are crucial to their proper functioning.

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