Too often, people who are managers think that they are leading people. The problem is that isn’t exactly the case most of the time. A manager is someone who tells people what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. A strong leader is someone who influences others to follow a belief, a company drive, and to do particular things. Being told to do something versus being influenced to do something can have very different results.

Complying with Management

The difference in the resulting responses to the two cases is going to be fairly subtle at first. Managers can often get workers to comply with their demands because they have the power to adversely affect these workers’ positions and daily work life. Compliance often means that managed workers will more or less accept the instruction whether they like it or not. They do this generally out of fear of being fired or ridiculed at the workplace, or of experiencing some other kind of discomfort or mistreatment.

If the workers under this manager don’t mind doing what they are told, then the job may get done fairly well. Liking the task does not guarantee, though, that the worker assigned to do it is going to give it the best effort that he or she can. When someone grudgingly does a task, or semi-willingly does a task, one can anticipate even less stellar results. These workers are not likely to put any significant amount of energy into the job. They may even make as little effort as possible to complete it, just enough to avoid getting into serious trouble. These workers will regularly test the limits of what they can get away with, and can get to the point where they have honed this down to an art. Workers who are unhappy about getting assignments from a manager will also take longer to get any task done, regardless of how sloppily they do it.

Following a Strong Leader

In contrast, workers become inspired when they are positively influenced. This person will feel excited and even privileged when called to do a particular task. Workers who are led will stand out from the rest with their consistent enthusiasm for the job. They may not necessarily be bubbling over with glee, but they will exhibit a noticeably more positive attitude – their posture will be straighter, they will more easily smile and make eye contact with coworkers and those in authority, and they will be attentive to their leader’s and teammates ideas and processes, to name a few.

Strong leaders influence workers to be highly motivated, and this makes them accomplish tasks quicker and with more care. Here, the results will be stunningly different. Well-led workers will tend to make a great effort to present a job well done, often above and beyond expectations. They will also have a great respect for their strong leader, which will make them work more efficiently. At times, they may even put in some of their own time to get it just right and please their leader.

Task Completion versus Brilliant Vision

The other main difference between managing and leading is in terms of vision. A manager is usually more focused on getting specific tasks done. A strong leader, on the other hand, is more focused on the vision that he or she has. This vision is an overarching picture that highlights every part of the process of achieving it. Achieving a vision for a project or the company as a whole entails much more that the different tasks that build up to completing projects and bringing the company to the next level. A strong leader is able to see and appreciate that central and all-encompassing vision. This mindset causes a strong leader to look away from the tasks at hand and look to the people that will be invaluable in helping to realize it.

The difference between simple management and strong leadership is about mindset, seeing the bigger picture and helping others to visualize that picture and their important individual roles in making it a reality. Managers may get the job done, but a strong leader will wrap it up with a bow and deliver it in style, surrounded by a full entourage of enthused colleagues.

Do you want to follow the vision – the dream?

Or do you want to simply stay in your lane, never having to think beyond each task, never reaching outside the box?

Which one do you think would lead you to gain that inspiration that will fuel your motivation to be more productive and happy at work? What will drive you will probably be the same thing that moves workers to care enough about the big picture to give the job their very best.

Haley Gray writer


Haley Lynn Gray is CEO and Founder of Leadership Girl, a graduate of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, and a serial entrepreneur. She is also a mom of four and Girl Scout Leader. Haley is passionate about helping women achieve their potential, and empowers them to overcome obstacles in leadership positions and entrepreneurial ventures.


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