Learn the differences between the qualities of good leaders and managers and how both use Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to implement meaningful change.

What’s the difference between a leader and a manager?

To be successful, both strong leadership and management skills are needed to help get teams on board. Leaders coach and inspire people to set and achieve a vision. A manager’s focus is on the output needed to accomplish a mission. Both leaders and managers are necessary to accomplish goals. Think of them as peanut butter and jelly. Good by themselves, but much better together. Although the two words are often interchanged, there are differences.

Here are some important distinctions between these two valuable roles:

What are the qualities of a good leader?

Effective leadership is about getting people to work with you. To achieve your goals, people must understand and believe in your vision. Leaders are the ones who chart a path and help answer the question, “What’s next?” They’re focused on growth, innovation, and defining where the company needs to shift or stretch. You don’t need to have a title to be a leader. It’s more a way of thinking and approaching problems and transcends titles.

Top 10 leadership qualities

Leaders come in many forms, and there’s no single way to be effective. A leader may not have all of these qualities, but we’ve seen that a combination of these traits consistently creates an environment ripe for ideas and success:

  1. Adaptability
  2. Focus
  3. Stretching
  4. Empathy
  5. Creativity
  6. Positivity
  7. Team building
  8. Humility
  9. Accountability
  10. Transparency

What are the qualities of a good manager?

Effective management ensures day-to-day actions are happening as they should. Managers are often directly responsible for operations, and guide teams and the use of resources to execute a vision. In other words, they own getting what needs to be done, done. They achieve success through operational excellence — no easy feat.

Top 10 qualities of managers

Good managers make sure everything runs smoothly. Typically that’s done with any or all of these qualities:

  1. Interpersonal skills
  2. Communication
  3. Motivation
  4. Organization
  5. Delegation
  6. Forward planning
  7. Strategic thinking
  8. Problem solving
  9. Commercial awareness
  10. Mentoring

5 Differences between how managers and leaders communicate

The qualities of a manager and a leader overlap. Both styles are needed to get things done. Neither is better than the other; they’re two sides of the same coin. We make the distinction because it can guide effective communication. When improving team performance, the language of leadership and management can help. Here are a few examples:

  • Leaders typically use language to inspire people; managers typically emphasize the work or actions that need to be achieved.
  • Leaders coach people to achieve; managers direct them how to get there.
  • Leaders set the vision; managers help execute it.
  • Leaders look forward; managers help pave the way.
  • Leaders shape the culture; managers ensure the structure is organized to create that culture.

How managers and leaders overlap

There are times when you may be asked to be both a leader and a manager, and it can be difficult to know which hat to wear and when. Successful teams often need both management and leadership working in conjunction to strive for the audacious.

Leaders and managers can work independently, but they complement each other perfectly when paired together. Consider Apple’s Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. You could say one was more often recognized as an engineer responsible for the day-to-day operations and culture, and the other was more often seen as the product visionary. Apple wouldn’t be the company it is today without both of their contributions. Good leadership and good management form a symbiotic relationship, with overlaps in three important areas:

1. Communication

Both leaders and managers need to communicate effectively, providing clarity and motivation to get things done. But, what they may communicate about and how they go about communicating it may differ slightly.

2. Problem solving and decision making

Whether you’re a manager or a leader, you need to solve complex problems and make decisions that may or may not be popular, but are necessary to meet your goals.

3. Change and crisis management

Change is the only constant. A big part of leadership and management is managing change and dealing with crises — while they’re happening. But how?

Empower managers and leaders with OKRs

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) help leaders and managers implement meaningful and significant change. A good leader understands OKRs shouldn’t look like a job description, but instead capture the change they want to see. They’re not used for “business as usual," but rather, when looking to the future and asking, “Where do you want to go?” and “How will you know when you get there?”

Additionally, many leaders have a clear idea of what they want to do, but struggle to communicate it. OKRs give leaders the tools they need to articulate their vision in a clear, concise, and practical manner. Use OKRs to lead change, and manage the actions needed to accomplish that change. By focusing teams on the same top priorities, OKRs help everyone make better decisions.

Take the example of management consulting firm August Public. Their organizational-design leader, Alexis Gonzales-Black, believes that structure is the key to freedom, especially in an organization that’s self-managed. At August, OKRs provide the clarity and habits needed to achieve meaningful goals independently, as well as simultaneously promoting teamwork. “You can’t rely on a few good managers to keep everyone in check. Everybody has to be smart about the way they set goals and the metrics they’re using. You keep people aligned by coming up with benchmarks and check-ins at a regular cadence — OKRs really help.”

Harnessing the power of OKRs for leaders and managers

When it comes to OKRs, there are three types: committed, aspirational, or learning. Any or all can be used to motivate or inspire leaders:

  • Committed OKRs are ambitious goals that must be achieved 100% before the end of your OKR cycle. They are graded as pass/fail.
  • Aspirational OKRs, sometimes called stretch goals or “moonshots”, require teams to stretch well beyond known capabilities. It’s a bigger risk than a committed OKR, and typically Key Results are only achieved about 70% of the time.
  • Learning OKRs are for when learning something new is the most valuable outcome for the cycle. They can be a source of focus before writing a committed or aspirational OKR for growth. An example could be, “What’s the most important thing we’re trying to learn in the next 90 days?”

Whether you’re a leader or a manager, OKRs can be an effective tool to guide your approach.

If you’re ready to use OKRs to help you innovate and set ambitious goals, take our OKRs 101 course or sign up for our Audacious newsletter.