10 Questions to Ask Yourself to Determine If You're a Manager or a Leader

(U.S. Army/Ken Scar)

If your first thought upon seeing this headline was, "What's the difference?" then I'm really glad you're reading this. Too often, the lines between being a manager and leader are so ill-defined that it's not clear which is required, which is desired and which you might want more of.

In the military, leadership style is typically easily identified. A leader may be a transformational leader, motivating and inspiring subordinates under high-stakes conditions. Authoritative leadership typically looks like the commander issuing orders, and others fall in line to keep vital missions and scenarios on track, out of fear of punishment. Servant leadership focuses more selflessly on the needs and goals of others (and the mission to achieve those goals), and charismatic leadership tends to rely on charm and personality to enlist support and encourage others to follow.

In all the various leadership styles of the military, the goal is to empower, drive and grow the mission, goals and people responsible for success. It focuses mostly on "the why" and "the what" and sometimes relies less on "the how" to accomplish the desired outcome.

In the private sector, however, we've inserted another role that sometimes is confused with leadership: managing. The manager is responsible for "the how." While the leader sets the vision, raises the morale of the team to work hard and innovates when obstacles arise, the manager focuses more intently on the work being done, handling deadlines and deliverables and alerting others when challenges surface.

Neither is right, and neither is wrong. Whether someone enjoys being more of a taskmaster and organizer or relishes in living in the big picture and driving a vision forward, both can be dictated by the role, the organization and personal preference. Leadership is very much also a mindset, and we see instances of managers who lead their teams very successfully. 

Fundamentally, however, the differences in style between leaders and managers has a lot to do with who sets the vision and who ensures the goals of the vision are met.

To better understand your own preferences, ask yourself:

• When I'm responsible for a team, do I enjoy being their guide and mentor?

• Do I like to brainstorm and strategize ideas at the highest level of consideration?

• Am I curious about other people, what they want, care about and need?

• Am I a natural teacher who likes to show people how to do something new?

• Do I get energized by uncertainty, possibility and growth?

If your answer to those questions above is a resounding "Yes!" then leadership likely appeals to you. As a leader, you're thinking about "what if" more than what's right in front of you, you'll embrace possibilities and the potential of the people you lead to grow and succeed.

Also, consider your responses to these questions:

• Am I a detail-oriented, organized person?

• Do I like the sense of completion I feel at the end of each day, knowing things are completed?

• Do I enjoy feeling a sense of control over my projects, team and work to stay on track?

• Am I easily frustrated when projects and goals feel abstract or not clearly defined?

•· Do I enjoy managing the tasks of my employees, ensuring everyone is performing according to our agreed-upon processes?

If the list above gives you peace and calm and seems more aligned with how you think and operate, then a managerial role might appeal to you more. Managers are accountable for the outcomes of their teams and projects, and they play a critical role to ensure all team members and projects move swiftly in the right direction.

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