Leader vs. Manager

Sep 01, 2021

“How old were you when you first became a leader?” the workshop facilitator asked us.

Everyone around the room collectively verbalized their answers.

I heard 45, 37, 52, 28, and a variety of other double-digit ages, which was in stark contrast to my answer of…


My single little integer hung in the air, unnoticed by others, as I looked around at them — the same expression of disbelief on my face as when someone tells me “they don’t like chocolate.”

What do you mean you don’t like chocolate?!

What do you mean you didn’t have time to be a leader until after your kids finished high school?!

“What do you mean by ‘leader’?” I asked the facilitator, giving her a softball to publicly correct herself.

“Well, when you first started managing other employees,” she answered me back, as if I were the one who said that I didn’t like chocolate.

This workshop, which was allegedly about management, was doing a great disservice to the participants by conflating “management” and “leadership.”  


Manager vs. Leader

According to the Cresta Solutions dictionary, a manager is someone who has formal authority for people, projects, or operations. Think supervisors, project managers, bosses. Heck, even parents.

A leader is someone who inspires others to contribute to a common goal, regardless of formal authority. 

A leader might be the head of your organization, or your kind and inspirational supervisor. 

But a leader also might be your colleague who has the courage to say no to a task so that she could stay focused on meeting a deadline without overworking — and in doing so, inspires others to get focused, help each other, and get things done. 

A leader might be the person who doesn’t let their organization “forget” about sharing data on pay equity, which motivates others to demand that promised information be shared. 

A leader might be your neighbor who recruits people for the park clean-up, cheers on their efforts, and stays after to put everything away — thereby moving others to create a much larger impact on the park than otherwise. 

When I was five, I was a leader when I got my cousins to stop arguing and the other kids to clean up so that we could have dessert at the family party. (I told you I like chocolate.)

A leader is probably someone like you.


Who do you want to be?

The Venn diagram above shows that there is overlap between being a manager and a leader, but that there are distinctions, too. 

Where do you want to be on that diagram? 

Who do you want to be?

Cresta Solutions’ number one core value is that “Anyone can be a leader.”

Not everyone is a manager, or wants to be a manager, or can be a manager.

But anyone can be a leader.


Building your leadership skills

We’ve got a few different ways to help you build your leadership skills so that the next time someone asks you “How old were you when you first became a leader,” you’ll be able to give them the lowest possible number.


Megan E. Mozina
Founder & Principal
Cresta Solutions


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