Can You Be a Manager Without Being a Leader?

Yes, you can. But then you have to focus on being a really good manager. So let’s talk about what it takes to do get there.


There are so many opinions about what management is that it can be downright overwhelming to figure out exactly what’s expected of you as a manager… especially if you’re in a management role for the first time.

For many, one of the most confusing aspects of a managerial position is the difference between a manager and being a leader—and whether you need both to be successful in your role.

I guess that’s why, in today’s post, we will talk about the role of a manager, that role of a leader, and whether you necessarily have to be a great leader to be a good manager. Read on to find out.

Yes, you can be a manager without being a leader. Although having leadership traits and developing your leadership skills can help you excel in your role as a manager, you don’t necessarily need them to do your job.

To understand why, we will go over the following questions:

  • What does a manager do?
  • What does a leader do?
  • The role of a manager vs. that of a leader
  • Is it enough to just be a manager?

What Does a Manager Do?

As a manager, you have two responsibilities. First and foremost, you must deliver the results that your company expects from you. Second, and this responsibility should not be underestimated, you must hire, develop, and retain the people in your team.

Sales managers are expected to make their numbers. Program and project managers are expected to deliver their programs and projects on time and within budget. Production managers are expected to keep the production lines running. And so on, and so on.

Of course, you can’t deliver these results on your own, nor are you expected to as a manager. This is where your second responsibility—to hire, develop, and retain the people in your team—comes into play.

Your title and job description may say otherwise (and, in many companies, they do). But at the end of the day, your role as a manager boils down to these two things, and these two things only.

It’s that simple and that complicated.

What Does a Leader Do?

A leader is a person who makes change happen by leading others. They may or may not have formal authority to do that, and their role and level in the organization are of little importance for their ability to lead.

A leader gets others aligned around an idea, vision, or principles by generating enthusiasm and creating a shared sense of identity, and then seeing that change through by empowering others and removing the roadblocks and obstacles along the way.

Generally, employees in individual contributor roles without management duties can be great leaders by being the glue that holds their teams and functions together. But the opposite is also true. Employees in management positions can be poor leaders.

The Role of a Manager vs. That of a Leader

Fire up your web browser, open Google, type in “manager vs leader,” press Enter on your keyboard, and then go to the Images tab. You will see an endless list of comparisons showing managers in a bad light and leaders in a good light.

But I contend that a company can only be successful if it has good managers and good leaders. Managers are responsible for delivering results and retaining their people. Leaders, very often without being responsible for it, shape the culture and catalyze change.

Management is about the tangible things and measurable actions that directly impact the bottom line. Leadership, on the other hand, is about the intangible things and unmeasurable actions that indirectly affect the bottom line.

Another way to put it is that management is all about performance, whereas leadership is all about impact. And the characteristics of a high-performance manager are very different from those of a high-impact leader.

The traits of a high-performance manager:

  • Authoritative and diligent
  • Dependable and truthful
  • Process and outcome-oriented
  • Puts things in order
  • Risk-averse

The traits of a high-impact leader:

  • Charismatic and influential
  • Motivational and inspirational
  • People and culture-centric
  • Shakes things up
  • Risk-seeking

You can be a manager without being a leader, just like you can be a leader without being a manager; the two are not mutually exclusive.

Is It Enough to Just Be a Manager?

If by “just being a manager” you mean:

  • Having weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly one-on-ones with your direct reports to give them upfront and actionable feedback;
  • Removing organizational obstacles and roadblocks for your team and the team’s members that they can’t handle on their own;
  • Coaching and mentoring your direct reports to help them grow in the role and perform better.

Then yes, it is absolutely sufficient to be just a manager for your team. Of course, being charismatic and inspirational can help. But it won’t get you far if you skip the above activities!

Contrary to popular management literature, you don’t have to be liked by your direct reports to be a good manager to them. You need to set high standards for them, genuinely care about them, and help them grow.

Management isn’t a popularity contest; it’s about getting results and retaining employees. Do the hard, uncomfortable things that other managers don’t like to do, and you and your team will succeed.

The Bottom Line

A manager focuses on different things and takes a different approach than a leader. As a rule of thumb, managers focus on delivering results and retaining employees, while leaders on initiating change and making a difference.

This is why you don’t really have to be a good leader to be a good manager (and vice versa). Yes, leadership traits and qualities can help you excel in management. But sticking to the basics and managing your team well is also enough.

Categorized as Work

By Dim Nikolov

Jack of all trades and master of none. Dim is a Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) and Certified Scrum Master (CSM). He has a decade of experience as a stakeholder, member, leader, and coach for agile teams.