Four differences between a leader and a manager

Today I was on a phone call with a peer of mine at work, the VP of Engineering at Liquid Web.

Within 20 minutes anyone listening to our call would have known I was speaking to a leader, not just a manager.

Here are the differences that are easy to spot when you know what to look for.

1. Leaders are hyper-focused listeners

I’m not telling you something you don’t already know: most people don’t listen to hear you, they listen to prepare a response. Leaders, on the other hand, quiet their inner monologue and actually listen. More importantly, they’re not only listening to what is said, they’re listening to what isn’t said. Then they ask the questions to confirm they’ve heard correctly. They don’t assume that they have. Leaders are listeners.

2. Leaders create frameworks and plans

If you’ve ever stepped into a manager’s office to talk about plans, you’ve probably seen the long list of items on a punch list or something like it. While having a list is helpful, having a framework is more powerful.

A framework shows you the underlying strategy and thinking that undergirds a leader’s approach. It says stuff like, “for each unit of effort, I’m putting one customer-facing feature with another internal feature so that we can consistently prepare for innovation.”

When you see work split across several teams and themes guiding each team’s assignments, it’s clear to determine the framework, and it helps you answer questions on your own.

3. Leaders use compression for creativity

Years ago I learned a tremendous amount from the CEO of Constellation Software. He looked at the spreadsheets my boss and I had worked on and said, “I love your projections over the next two years. How can we bring them into this year?”

It’s an insane proposition. But the time compression made us have to think with a greater degree of creativity than ever before.

Leaders don’t need to wait for others to challenge them. They ask themselves how they might compress their own schedule.

4. Leaders are flexible with their path…

…it’s the destination that matters most. On our call we started talking about the framework and as we did, we moved some things around. She wasn’t rigid and locked into a specific approach. Instead she was more than ready to make tweaks if we could get to our destination faster and easier. Too often we find ourselves anchored to our own ideas.


If you’re getting this from a domain you don’t recognize it’s because I merged BeyondGood, 40Mantras and this blog ( together. Each focused on leadership in a different way and this is where I’m doing that writing.