Gini Dietrich

Managers vs. Leaders: The Traits of Each

By: Gini Dietrich | September 22, 2014 | 
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Managers vs. LeadersBy Gini Dietrich

I remember being a young whippersnapper in the big agency world.

I could not wait until someone gave me a chance to manage others.

I just knew that would be my big break!

The chance came a lot sooner that I expected…or probably deserved. I was all of maybe 25 and a young woman a couple of years older than me was on probation.

My supervisor really wanted to give her one more shot at turning things around and she figured it was a good way for me to cut my teeth on management.

I was given a set of criteria: Meet with her daily, create a set of goals, hold her accountable to those goals, check-in with our superiors once a week.

I really wanted to succeed. I wanted to show that I could make difference, but also that I could help this young woman keep her job.

I failed. Miserably.

Failure Sometimes Equals Success

The young woman on probation wasn’t going to make it, but no one told me that.

I met with her once a day to review the goals she’d be given and to provide feedback on where to improve.

The first couple of meetings were hard—she did NOT want to be there (and, really, who can blame her?).

And then she just stopped showing up.

She was gone about two weeks after they’d “given” her to me to manage.

From there, I began to move up the ladder, to my great surprise.

Who promotes a person who can’t keep someone employed for more than two weeks? But I guess that was just a test to see how I would handle myself; not to see if she’d stay.

But on my reviews every year, I heard a lot of really great things and two worrisome things:

Learn to be more strategic and stop complimenting people all the time. You have to be critical and give people things to work on. If all you do is compliment them, they’ll never learn.

So what did I do?

I stopped complimenting so much.

Great management tool, huh?

And I didn’t get any better.

I like to help people feel good about the work they do. I hate to be micromanaged. And I hate process and structure.

I assumed everyone worked that way.

Turns out those are three really bad traits for a manager.

I began to feel badly about myself and tried really hard to develop traits that I was told made a good manager.

I kept stalling.

Managers vs. Leaders

What no one recognized in me were my leadership traits; they were too busy trying to fit me into their corporate ladder box.

And I didn’t know the difference between manager vs. leader (or had the confidence) to be able to say, “Yoo hoo! This isn’t the right fit for me!”

So what’s the difference, you ask?

I love the way the Wall Street Journal defines it:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

The nice thing is that organizations need both managers and leaders; there isn’t a right way or a wrong way. It’s up to you to define which you are and have the confidence to stand up and say, “Yoo hoo! This isn’t for me!”

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • The WSJ list is a good start though I do agree with a couple of their points. And then there are those times when you really need the traits of both.

    I remember taking a college course that spent the semester trying to define the differences. We were able to come up with lists like this, and generally, you could tell who was a manager and who was a leader by observation (or reading a case study, etc), but in the end it was really hard to tell where that line was, particularly in situations where a person really needed to demonstrate, to a greater or lesser extent, the traits of both.

  • Elephantdrum

    lkpetrolino An obvious leader smiles ALOT

  • Big companies run by leaders succeed. Big companies then run by managers usually fail in various ways. Think Google under the founders (success) vs Google under Eric Schmidt (floundered)and now back to founders (success). Apple under Steve Jobs (success) under Tim Cook (jury is out). Microsft under Gates (success) under Ballmer (floundered). EBay under founders (success) under Whitman (floundered). I can keep going.

    BUT many leaders/visionaries fail because they do not have a manger to help them. Which is why you gave me the RSSCOO title 3 years ago (Really Super Secret Chief Operating Officer)

    Really important a company has both and that both accept their role. 

    I can only imagine what happened to the on probation worker you managed and where she is now…monastery? Casino worker? Long Shore Fisherman? Ambassador to Inner Outer Southern but not too Southern Mongolia?

  • Interesting list of differentiators but I don’t believe you can be a good leader unless you have understood or experienced the management process. For instance the leader, to have his/her eye on the horizon had better understand the bottom line or the ship may sink on its way . The same with the short range view versus long range perspective. To attain long term goals, short term objectives should be met. 

    For me, what sets apart a manager from a leader is that the leader fully understands (not saying an expert in) ALL the functions of management and has the ability to take and incorporate them beyond those narrow limitations into innovation, original thought and future vision while the manager ‘may’ not.

  • I seem to be a mish-mash of both. We should talk about that in our 121 this morning. 😉

  • Managers vs. Leaders – the eternal battle! 
    The best book I read on leadership was Robin Sharma´s: The Leader without a Title”. It opened my eyes and unfortunately I could see there aren´t many leaders out there. 
    Inspiring people to do things/work, etc is the greatest quality of a leader (in my humble opnion).

  • annelizhannan I agree with you Anneliz. A good leader has to understand and know the management process.

  • ClayMorgan the term leader is also squishy. It can mean the person who steps up and leads (being a leader). It can mean someone who never steps up to leader and people naturally bestow the title or who people gravitate too regardless of their competency for the role. (leadership qualities).

    and ironically most ‘leaders’ really suck at leading…biggest understatement I will make today. Think world leaders. CEOs. Religious ‘Leaders’. most are lucky, or corruption, nepotism, or cronyism got them their jobs.

  • JackVincent

    Thanks, Gini. 

    I believe that there are many people saying, “Leaders are cool. Managers are dweebs.” In fact, most of us have the opportunities to be leaders and, at the same time, most of also have the responsibility to be managers.  

    Leadership requires a certain character, and some of it CAN be learned and acquired.  Leadership manifests itself in “moments.”  Something happens, and how we respond to it shows our leadership character.  Or, something needs to happen, and how we engage people to get it going also demonstrates leadership character.  

    But we should not say, “Aw, I’m a leader; I don’t have to do that management stuff.” Anyone who is good at both will be a better performer overall than the one who focuses on just one.

    Now it’s time for me to do some management stuff.  It ain’t glorious, but it needs to get done 🙂

  • ClayMorgan Which has me thinking how do we classify the power behind the throne type of leadership?

  • cwiseman1

    ginidietrich great article. There is defiantly big differences between managers and leaders!

  • I love this topic. I have read countless posts about it, many of which overlap each other, but almost all of which are thought-provoking. I had one supervisor who definitely was in the “leader” category and did HUGE things professionally — she was fond of telling us as employees that we needed to “chunk” things (i.e., not micromanage) but honestly she needed someone with great management/detail skills to be the yin to that yang. One of my favorite leadership bloggers is Dan Rockwell (Leadership Freak). He wrote a “managers vs leaders” post a few years ago ( http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/2011/12/14/leaders-vs-managers/ ) and I still believe what I said in my comment at that time: “There is a “casual dining” restaurant chain that has several locations here in Tallahassee and their trademark thing is to yell out “Welcome to [name of restaurant]!” loudly and enthusiastically when patrons walk in the door. Most of the time I am fairly convinced that the employee means it.
    But now it seems like MANY businesses in town have adapted the “welcome to [name of biz here]!” practice. And trust me, not many of them sound very convicted. You can tell they have to say it or they think the patron expects it or something.
    A manager makes employees say “welcome to [blank]“; a leader helps those staff members find such joy in their work that they almost can’t help saying “welcome to [blank]!” when they see another opportunity to interact with a valued client.”

  • ginidietrich

    cwiseman1 huge difference. And get corporations push managers.

  • Howie Goldfarb ClayMorgan That type of leadership often does have supporting leadership behind it….often making sure the daily stuff gets done.

    Or are those managers? Or both?

    Maybe we have “out front” or “lead” leaders, and supporting leaders? And then managers?

  • The leadership definition fits you to a T. And fits some of the better organizational heads I’ve worked with, as well.

    But it does seem a little like the WSJ definition is a little on the negative side when it comes to managers. By their definition, would anyone want to call themselves a manager? And what about managers who do contribute fresh ideas (not very status quo) in addition to creating systems?

  • JenClark1131

    Great article! My company just sent me to a week of leadership training and it re-energized me to be a better “leader.” I can do the management piece (and I’m even good at many parts), but I’m in my zone when I can focus on strategy and helping coach people to succeed. My key takeaway for what my job is as a leader: create the conditions for others to do their best work and then get out of the way.

  • Corina Manea

    Love the pic. 🙂

  • Eleanor Pierce There seems to be a bias out there. Everybody asks for leadership and strategic skills. But nobody asks for managerial and tactical skills.

  • lkpetrolino

    Elephantdrum 🙂 Agreed!

  • By that definition, I’m a little of both. Does that make me bipolar? 😀

  • chelpixie I think it makes you human!

  • belllindsay I think you are a leader by nature and a manager when needed….so yes, mish-mash 🙂

  • This is such an interesting topic, and something I think about a lot. You are by far one of the best leaders I’ve ever worked with, and part of what makes you so great is your ability to adapt your leadership style and methods to be most effective for the different people and personalities you are leading. I think this is a trait that is a hallmark for both good leaders and managers. Understanding your people, their motivations, strengths, weaknesses, and obstacles – then adapting your style accordingly.

  • LauraPetrolino And firing them twice a day….you forgot about that one. 😉

  • LauraPetrolino Well, stab me in the eye with a fork! 😉

  • belllindsay LauraPetrolino Yes, well…..that’s all part of her “crazy Canadian” methodology

  • belllindsay LauraPetrolino um…..ewwwww

  • That’s called ‘walk away power’ if it’s not a good fit, but much harder to do at 25, huh? 

    Good distinctions between the two and good to know what your role is and blend appropriately if necessary. 

    Putting people in a ‘box’ w/ a certain set of expectations but that ‘box’ does not play to that person’s strengths can be very frustrating indeed.

  • When people streamed off the land into factories (unskilled, untrainable and untrustworthy as the thinking of the time went), management became a highly prized skill. It took over as the way to the top in the new corporations. Good salespeople had to become sales managers to progress. Engineers and Scientists were elbowed aside by managers. These managers justified their position by building “leadership” into a big thing.

    The factories full of unskilled labour have gone. Managers aren’t the big thing any more. Leadership has been exposed as a lie to keep people in positions they aren’t entitled to.

    Don’t believe people peddling the lie that managers and leaders are important. That’s last century. This century, the valuable skills are connecting and co-ordinating groups of equals.

  • LauraPetrolino Whew, one’s nose can never too brown, huh @ginidietrich? Actually, from the outside looking it I would have to agree; I’m sure there has been a lot of trial and error on Gini’s part but she’s obviously doing something right.

  • Arment Dietrich, Inc.

    They’re not monkeys, but they’ll do 🙂 ^ep

  • Love that Wall Street List…hard to break out the favorites, but I’ll go with…The manager maintains; the leader develops.The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

  • PeterJ42 I’m not sure I entirely agree. There are lots of people who can’t or don’t want to lead. They just want to be told what to do. They’re just interested in going to work, doing what they’re asked to do, and leaving. Does that make them part of a group of equals? Because I can imagine the other people in the group of equals would feel they weren’t equal.

  • bdorman264 It’s also a very difficult lesson to learn that not everyone works the same as you or is motivated in the same way. That’s a tough, tough thing for a person to figure out as they’re growing an organization.

  • LauraPetrolino OK, fine. You can have a raise.

  • belllindsay I only fire you … and it’s only once a day.

  • bdorman264 LauraPetrolino RIGHT??

  • chelpixie Oh you’re something…but bi-polar is not it.

  • JenClark1131 “AND THEN GET OUT OF THE WAY!” Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Eleanor Pierce OK! You can have a raise, too!

  • biggreenpen Why the heck do you think I hired ClayMorgan??

  • JackVincent Ahhhh… did you hear that, ClayMorgan? You’re a dweeb! 🙂 The hard part, for me, is a lot of the things a really great manager does (cough, cough, Clay) is not in my strengths. I’ve tried to do them and I really fail at it. And then they business suffers.

  • corinamanea I agree with you – I’ll have to pick up that book!

  • belllindsay Why didn’t we?!?

  • annelizhannan I agree with you. It wasn’t until I began to  build my own company that I really understood what they meant on all of those reviews.

  • Howie Goldfarb I’ve often wondered about her. I would look her up, but I can’t remember her last name!

  • dbvickery I like those, too. Sometimes I get stuck on lists like these and then I remember there are people like Steve Jobs who did none of these things correctly and yet… 

    Also, sorry about your loss yesterday. I’m kind of astounded.

  • ginidietrich Wohooo! You’re like Oprah today with the raises!!!

  • ginidietrich dbvickery Hah, you and me both…yet more painful fodder for a “lessons learned” blog post.

  • ginidietrich Wait a second…who’s been firing me then??? 😉

  • Eleanor Pierce ginidietrich Note to self: Suck up more.

  • ginidietrich Maybe we did…. 😉

  • belllindsay Eleanor Pierce No raise for Lindsay!

  • StaceyHood

    ginidietrich no.

  • ginidietrich

    StaceyHood YES

  • ginidietrich

    PRhynardPIO Amen

  • ginidietrich biggreenpen ClayMorgan RIGHT! Just …. when I walk in the door of Spin Sucks someday (I know, it’s a virtual door and all) … I predict a sincere “Welcome to Spin Sucks!!”

  • LauraPetrolino belllindsay I think I’m kind of similar in that regard. Good to hear we’re not alone!

  • Great post here! ginidietrich, it’s very cool to hear about your path and your journey toward understanding yourself. It’s heartening too, because there are certainly times when I don’t have the courage (yet) to raise my hand. 

    Like belllindsay I note that I straddle the line between leadership and management and find myself on either side in different situations. And there are some times when the leadership skills get used in the course of managing! 

    Thank you for this!

  • ginidietrich PeterJ42 There is a line in Hitchhiker’s Guide which stuck in my mind. Ford and Zaphod are under attack. 
    “We’re not obsessed by anything you see. That’s
    the deciding factor. We can’t win against obsession. They care, we don’t. They
    win.” Ford Prefect

    People who just do what they are told don’t have the passion. So they don’t do as well as people who do it because they want to.

    Leaders disrupt this. They like to tell people what to do, not inspire the passion. Every leader creates a follower – someone who works because they are told to, not because they want to. And that always fails.

  • My best supervisors have been in the “leader” category and not the “manager” category. I think it suits my personality to have a leader. I have always tended to challenge everything, so I put myself in the “leader” category as well. The hallmarks of a good manager (for me and what I would aspire to)::The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.

  • dawnfredryk

    Always love your posts, but this one really hit the mark.  Thank you for being such an inspiration!

  • ginidietrich

    coledouglas7 Hi, friend!

  • dawnfredryk Thank you for saying so, Dawn!

  • Jen Novotny Here’s the thing about the first bullet point: People cannot live without systems and structure. I really fought it for a long time. I cannot work inside those kinds of constraints. But most people, particularly if they don’t run the organization, need to know what’s expected of them. So we need managers, too.

  • DwayneAlicie Here’s the thing about you (and I’ve said this before): Though you’ve entered a new career and are starting again at the bottom, you have experience. Really good experience. I think you tend to let the fact that you don’t have communications experience rattle your confidence. But think about all of those years you worked before you went back to school. That kind of experience is priceless.

  • PeterJ42 Someone asked on Facebook the other day if you could have two hours with someone still living, who would it be? For me, it would be you. I think our conversation would be meaningful, interesting, and we’d both come away really thinking.

  • Gini Dietrich

    I wish I’d been able to find a photo of monkeys following a leader around!

  • ginidietrich I agree and I can report I am getting better at remaining confident. And boy, can I ever tell the moment when Self-Doubt storms onstage now that I have a better frame of reference … chilling!

  • ginidietrich PeterJ42 Wow Gini. That’s probably the best thing anyone has ever said to me. Let’s make it happen. Perhaps we should collaborate on my “Disrupt Yourself” Book.

  • ginidietrich

    emilymukalazi Thanks, Emily!

  • emilymukalazi

    ginidietrich Thank YOU! A refreshing read that really hit the spot 🙂

  • ginidietrich

    behindthespin Thanks!

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