Managing vs. Leading: Key Differences and How It Impacts Remote Teams 

Managing vs leading

The terms management and leadership are often used interchangeably. Still, there is a growing recognition that managing vs. leading is quite different, that the two things are different skill sets, and while some people have both, others don’t. 

It might be someone who can dot every t and cross every I but can’t motivate their team to do the same, or the manager who makes you feel inspired every day but forgets to forward your holiday forms to HR. But what are the differences, and what impact will they have on your remote team?

Leader Vs. Manager

The fundamental difference between the two terms is this: A manager makes sure things get done, while a leader inspires people to do them. While a manager may set goals, it is the leader that creates the motivation to achieve them.

Leaders are there to challenge and change things, while management is about maintaining the status quo. Perhaps most notably, managers are there to minimize and mitigate risk, while leaders are there to take it.

What is a Manager?

The dictionary definition of a manager is, ‘a person responsible for controlling or administering an organization or group of staff. A manager is all about managing, keeping track of workloads, assigning responsibility, monitoring quality, etc. 

Management is doing the day-to-day tasks that need to get done to keep the team or organization on track. Key skills for managers include time management, attention to detail, good communication skills, and domain knowledge.

What is a Leader?

Leadership is defined in the dictionary as, ‘a person who guides or directs his group.’ There’s a subtle difference there to management; leadership is about guidance and direction rather than control. More widely, leadership is recognized as providing direction and inspiration, encouraging your team to share your vision and working towards a common goal.

5 Key Differences Between Managers and Leaders

Creates structure and delegates responsibilityProvides vision and direction
Carries out all five of the management functions; planning, organizing, staffing, direction, and controllingProvides direction
Has formal authority due to their senior positionHas informal authority through how others respond to them
Tend to be reactiveTend to be proactive
Transactional styleTransformational style

How to Lead Your Remote Team

So how do you lead vs. manage? 

The difference between leadership and management can be subtle, but there are some ways that you can take your management to the next level and inspire your team to high performance. Here are some suggestions for building and leading high-performing remote teams.

1. Gain Leadership Skills for Remote Work

If you google ‘Leadership Skills,’ you’ll get a slew of results which all have slightly different lists of abilities to make a great leader. Here are the most commonly found results.

  • Active Listening
  • Empathy
  • Communication Skills
  • Flexibility
  • Persuasion
  • Reliability

At their core, these are primarily interpersonal skills, and even if you’re great at these in person, relating to people over an internet connection can be very different. Understanding how you can demonstrate these skills when talking to people via video link (and we would definitely recommend doing that whenever you can) requires careful thinking. 

Body Language Expert, Mark Bowden, has shared tips on how to ensure you stay connected with your audience during a video call which you can watch here.

2. Have a Clear Vision

Great teams come together around a common goal. That’s why companies spend time and money developing vision and mission statements. Can your team come up with their own vision? Having a brainstorming session to help your team come up with a vision or mission statement can bring the team together for a common goal, a key difference in leadership and management.

3. Champion Your Team

One of the things which remote workers worry about is being overlooked at work. The thinking is that because they’re not in the office, having those chance encounters with senior leadership that might get them noticed, they’ll be out of sight and out of mind. 

One way you can lead your team is to ensure that they are represented and don’t settle for less for them. Ensure remote staff gets a thorough onboarding, connecting them with the people you would have introduced them to if you were touring the building. Make sure they’re included in the internal phone directory and that they get the recognition they deserve for both individual projects and in employee recognition schemes like ‘Employee of the Month.

4. Stay in Touch

Communication is the cornerstone of running a good remote team, and a good leader makes sure that they stay in regular contact with their team. That’s why the daily stand-up meeting used in the Agile development methodology is so effective – it gets everyone together for a brief meeting, they share what they’re doing and what they’re stuck on, and they offer support to each other. It doesn’t take long to just touch base every day.

Don’t leave it to team meetings, though. Make sure that you grab one on one face time with each of your staff and give them an opportunity to discuss their concerns, both at work and outside. Remember how important empathy is to leadership; if you don’t know your team, you can’t support or motivate them.

5. Encourage Creative Thinking

Managers make sure that things happen, but it’s leaders that decide what those things are going to be. You need to be creative in your own thinking and encourage a culture of sharing ideas within your team. If everyone feels safe to suggest improvements or new approaches, then you’ll be able to improve your performance and your team cohesion in one fell swoop.

Can a Leader be a Manager?

We hope that this post has shown you that while there are differences between the two terms, you can be both. Developing your leadership skills will help you to boost your team’s performance and your own career prospects. Remote teams are the future, so become a remote leader and effective manager and lead your team to new heights.


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