Manage(r) or Lead(er)

It’s late Sunday afternoon, I’m currently sitting on a full flight heading back home to Sydney after a fantastic short family break in sunny Brisbane. We are patiently waiting to take off, and I have just finished a great article titled ‘Leader or Manager?‘ by Catherine Fox in this month’s Qantas magazine.

Following on from last week’s post, the article has inspired me to stay on the topic of leading, but this time focus on the differences between a manager and a leader. Sure, we know great leadership when we see it but how does a good manager become an inspirational leader and can anyone do it?

The image for this post, in case you are wondering, is of me with my two kids passionately singing ‘You’ll never walk alone’ with 53,000 fans at a friendly game on Friday between Liverpool FC and Brisbane Roar. This was the catalyst for our short Queensland break. Team sport is a great example of where there can be a subtle difference between someone that manages and someone that leads. Both individuals can inspire the team, become idolised by millions. However, who ultimately pushes the team that extra bit, the manager or the leader? Personally, I believe it is the leader on the pitch.

None of the world’s biggest problems will be affected by good solid management. It is the leaders that set a vision and decide which path an organisation or cause will travel on. As part of our break, we also had the pleasure of visiting the famous Australia Zoo. Here is an example of someone, the late Steve Irwin, whom truly led and still inspires an amazing path of conservationism and education around protecting and preserving the environment. A clear case of ‘leader’.

They say great leadership is at a premium. The art of management focuses on providing resources and processes for teams to get on with their work, but a skilled leader inspires and motivates us, brings meaning to our jobs and can ultimately transform an organisation.

So are you born or become a great leader? David Morrison, former Chief of Army (in Australia) doesn’t think that great leaders are born. He notes that leaders are made through the school of hard knocks. Also, and importantly, a focus on becoming a leader should not ignore the importance of first becoming a great manager. This is a non-negotiable part of the climb for all leaders.

There are many great examples of leaders in this world, past and present, in many different guises but ultimately exhibiting key traits that differentiate themselves from good managers. Here is a brief comparison between the two:

Manager vs Leader

  • Technical vs Visionary
  • Plans vs Inspires
  • Focuses on systems vs Focuses on people
  • Has authority vs Has influence
  • Asks how and when vs asks why
  • Knows how it’s done vs Shows how it’s done
  • Says “I” vs Says “We”
  • Does things right vs Does the right thing

So are you a manager or leader?

Thanks for reading,



As noted above I have referenced and quoted from Leader or Manager?‘ by Catherine Fox in the Qantas magazine for July.

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