Are you really a leader or just a manager? What’s the difference between a leader and a manager? Well, if you’ve worked under several bosses in your lifetime, then you’ve probably had firsthand experience with both leaders and managers. You tell me. Which did you prefer? The leader, who works with you to develop your skills and create the best possible outcome for you as an individual within the context of a team? Or the manager, who just told you what to do and left you to your own devices without any further help or instruction?
You preferred the leader, right? Yep, that’s what I thought. Naturally. Now let’s talk about why and what the key differences are.
To keep it simple, leaders tend to work with their team of people, while managers just direct their team. It can be a subtle difference, but the difference is there—a leader is intentionally part of their team, and a manager is not. Think of it like this: A manager, due to their inexperience perhaps or insecurities or maybe just the way they were taught to lead, ends up being just a boss. But a leader is more like a seasoned captain.
So, why do we lean toward liking leadership vs management—why do we prefer to be led instead of managed? And how can you ensure that you’re a leader in your career and not a manager?
Looking to the Future with Leadership vs Management
As human beings we crave connection, collaboration, and community and, even more importantly, a shared vision of life. Leaders create that with their way of Being, and managers often prevent that with theirs. One of the most important aspects of leadership is looking toward the future, toward the next big step. This not only applies to the future of the team but also to the futures of each individual making up the team. This is one key difference between leadership and management.
I recently watched The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix (highly recommend, by the way). It made me think about the game of chess in comparison to life! Imagine life is just that, one big game of chess—it kind of is, isn’t it? Leaders are thinking several moves ahead, asking themselves what they need to do to get all the pieces of their team across the board with ease. They’re visualizing the moves their knights, bishops, and pawns could make and anticipating the moves of their competition.
Leaders are creating an intentional plan that incorporates the success of their team at every level as well as playing out the necessary scenarios of risk along the way. Why? So there are no surprises and a greater chance for success! This type of leadership stems from a sense of confidence and perspective that no matter what unfolds, the leader knows they have done their very best, or at least attempted their very best. Leaders bank on past lessons learned from both failures and successes. They know their role isn’t about them but an experience they are simply choosing to have. They know their identity isn’t tied up in the job at hand.
In this same chess game, managers are thinking about survival, and that means focusing only on their next move. They’re wondering how many pieces they have to sacrifice to win the game, and rather than imagining themselves as a piece on the board, they sit in a more self-absorbed space where they are beginning with themselves before considering the impact on the team overall.
Managers aren’t looking ahead and imagining what the game might look like tomorrow or next week—they’re simply trying to get through today. It often feels like they don’t even have much experience playing the game no matter how many years they have under their belt. This results in short term, crisis mode thinking and often stems from a perspective of fear, insecurity, and uncertainty from past failure or from a lack of experience. Totally normal.
Now, let’s imagine the stress that the chess pieces themselves must feel, depending on whether they are being managed or led. We all have the ability to tell whether we’re working with a leader who has a vision for us and our team or for a manager who just wants to get through the current project in one piece. You’ll know because of the way it makes you feel.
Leaders work to inspire their teammates to be productive, work together, and envision their success and truly foster the human connection with each member of the team. Team members can share the vision with their leader easily and enthusiastically. Managers, however, just typically don’t even have the capacity to step back and consider leading that way as a requirement of their role.
Energy Leadership vs. Management
If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve probably heard me talk about energy leadership and how that influences how someone not only leads themselves but others. You may have even read my blog about managing upward! But I want to talk about energy leadership vs management here to point out a few key differences between these two opposite styles.
Albert Einstein theorized that everything is made from energy. He once said, “Everything is energy, and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want, and you cannot help but get that reality.”
Like energy attracts like energy, right? Exactly. And that is the basis of energy leadership—you get back from your team what you give them. So if you’re a leader who gives your attention, time, and respect to your team, they’ll match your energy. And the same goes for managers who give little to their team or, even worse, managers who negatively impact their team.
Energy leadership is all about assessing where your energy is at and what you can do to move up or down the energy leadership scale to best serve you in achieving your goals. This leadership style can be broken down into two forms of energy—anabolic and catabolic—and those can be broken down further into the seven levels of energy.
Anabolic Energy vs Catabolic Energy
In this context, you can think about anabolic energy vs catabolic energy as our larger conversation of leadership vs management. Anabolic energy is the energy of leaders—it’s constructive, helpful, and insightful and much lighter in its application to people, situations and circumstances. Catabolic energy is the energy of managers—restrictive, distant, and narrow-minded and often heavy and destructive in its approach.
The anabolic energies are more free-flowing creating situations of unlimited possibility and opportunity. They encourage growth and healing, and they offer fulfillment not only for the leader who is living within them but also for the team working with that leader. The catabolic energies, however, often shut people and possibilities down without consideration due to fear, uncertainty, and doubt. They can cause harm to the managers who apply this energy and negatively affect each person that those managers come into contact with.
Leaders with anabolic energy encourage their team members to follow their own path, and they love to receive and incorporate feedback from the people they work with. They allow others to get in on the whole project, rather than restricting each individual to their own space and experience. Leaders who live within their anabolic energy see the value in their teammates, and they hope to reciprocate that value back to them. They have learned to let go of what others think of them and are confident enough to step into a space of leadership without fear.
Managers with catabolic energy control their team through means of pushing and pulling people around with no care for their team member’s desires often because they haven’t been able to fulfill their own desires and needs. They blame others and work solely in crisis mode—everything is the end of the world, and none of it is their fault. That’s how they protect themselves from what they deem as failure. These managers focus only on the negatives, and they have absolutely no problem taking advantage of the people who work for them. They literally don’t even know they are doing it in some cases.
As they say, “People don’t leave jobs; they leave managers.”
The Levels of Energy Leadership
There are seven levels of energy leadership, so let’s break them each down really quickly.
- The Victim: People at this level believe it’s all about them, but they’ve already lost before the game has even begun.
- The Fighter: People at this level believe it’s all about you, and they’re going to blame you for everything that goes wrong.
- The Rationalizer: People at this level also hope that the people around them win, but the only thing they really care about is their own success.
- The Caregiver: People at this level want to help you win, and they only believe that they win if you do, too.
- The Opportunist: People at this level want everyone to win, and they prioritize working together over everything else.
- The Visionary: People at this level believe that the journey is what matters most, and they want to take that journey as one solid, complete team.
- The Creator: People at this level believe that there is no winning or losing—we’re all in this together, and we’re going to be absolutely fine no matter what.
Did you catch all that? Managers tend to find themselves working with the catabolic levels of energy leadership—levels one, two, and even some of level three. Leaders live and breathe in the anabolic levels of energy leadership—levels four, five, six, and seven—and know how to consciously choose when to leverage levels one, two, and three to get what they need accomplished. You see, none of these levels are actually good or bad. They simply may or may not serve you or your leader.
But here’s the thing: We all move throughout this scale every day, and the goal we should all be striving to achieve is reaching that sweet spot on level seven. The level of Creator is devoid of all judgement, and they have access to choose between all seven levels of energy leadership. They have the ability to move between all levels in order to act and respond in the best possible way depending on their situation.
A sound, successful leader spends time consciously aware of what levels will support the outcomes they seek, and they will differ moment to moment, person to person, circumstance to circumstance. Leaders know how to shift their energy level to create the best possible outcome for themselves and their teammates by asking the following questions:
What do we want?
How is what we are doing getting us what we want?
If we are not getting what we want, are we willing to try a different way? Am I willing to try a different way?
Leadership vs Management: What Is the Vision?
What kind of vision do you want to have and provide as a leader? How willing are you to observe your own style from an anabolic or catabolic viewpoint? Where do you want your energy to most often rest while you lead your team to success? Do you want each member of your team to realize their own potential and value, therefore increasing the accomplishment of the team as a whole in a supportive and collaborative way? Or do you simply want to finish the current project then move on to the next one for fear you don’t have time or perhaps trust in the team for which you are responsible?
Look, honestly, you’ve probably got a little bit of both or you wouldn’t even be reading this blog. That’s totally normal. So good for you for wanting to educate yourself on the difference between leadership vs management. You can now consciously choose to think about what kind of energy you’re bringing to the table as a leader and remember that the level of success, happiness, and fulfillment you and your team find relates directly back to where you land on that energy leadership scale. As a leader, it is all about self awareness and leading by design, setting out on an intentional effort to leave behind the legacy you want to be remembered for. That, my friend, is a leader!
Want to find out exactly where you tend to average and land on the Energy Leadership Index (ELI) scale? Also known as you E-Factor! Contact me for your very own ELI Assessment and coaching debrief.