two people with boxing gloves

Manager vs. leader: what’s in a title?

“Where does management end and leadership begin?” This is a question that I get asked quite often. The differentiating line is a fuzzy one. 

One thing that most people understand is that managers and leaders are both responsible (in a supervisory capacity) for one or more employees. So, the question that I tend to get is more: do managers lead, and are leaders also managing?

Here’s what I usually say to the folks I coach: I suggest that they do not get hung up on nomenclature, and to instead focus on outcomes. Here’s what I mean: for every role there are expected outcomes, and for people who have direct reports, the two main “outcome categories” are: 

  • Business related outcomes
  • People related outcomes 

Shelisa Bainbridge Visual RepresentationBusiness related outcomes

Business related outcomes are tied to the ultimate goals of the organization for that year and over a longer period of time. No matter what your role is in the organization you should understand these goals and the value they are bringing into the world. As a contributor in the organization, it’s important that you feel confident to question and challenge these goals, and how they are accomplished. It is only by questioning the way things are done that we put ourselves in a position to truly understand the ultimate goal, and to potentially improve them!

If you’re nervous about inquiring into the overall business goals, (perhaps out of fear of seeming out of the loop or even incompetent) I have a little hack you could try. Try thinking of yourself not as an employee, but as a consultant to your organization. Consultants are generally hired to help improve a specific situation for a client. As such, they are extremely comfortable asking honest questions and offering transparent advice and feedback. 


Adopting  a “consultant” mindset could help you to interact with your organization differently; it could position you to feel more comfortable questioning and critiquing business goals. In turn this will help to deepen your understanding of the long-term vision and short term goals, and even contribute to enhancing them along the way.

Shelisa Bainbridge Visual RepresentationPeople related outcomes

Your ability to help the organization achieve business outcomes is a team effort. Keeping your team engaged, challenged, motivated, and operating as a trusting, cohesive unit, will dramatically improve the value

 you bring to the organization. 

If you don’t know where to start, I recommend starting by truly knowing each member of your team and what their individual strengths (personal and professional) are. It also demands knowing what motivates the people on your team, gauging their ability to trust and collaborate, getting a sense of whether or not they are engaged, happy, and aligned with their work, and what their own personal and professional goals are. 

Now that we’ve begun the process of examining outcomes, you might notice that the actual title (manager versus leader) matters less. Think more in terms of “outcomes” and the value you are able to bring to the business and to the members of your team.


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