Photo: Komgrit Pradissagul/Dreamstime
Female Fleet Manager Komgrit Pradissagul Dreamstime

The differences between managers and leaders

Dec. 7, 2020
By building and honing foundational and power skills, managers can self-assess and continue develop in the workforce.

I listened to a webinar a few weeks ago put on by 15Five that asked the following question: Manager or leader — which one are you?

Jeff Smith, director of 15Five’s Best-Self Academy, suggested that managers focus on controlling things while leaders cause their employees to grow; leaders inspire employees. He was not blaming the managers for not necessarily being leaders because all too often we promote people who are good at a particular job — say sales — and ask them to manage the function.

However, we fail to assess whether they have the skills necessary to do the job nor do we give them training so they can develop those skills. We forget that while they may have achieved a great deal of success in their given position, they may not have the leadership skills needed to inspire the team to perform at the highest level.

He said something that caused me to pause and think. “You manage things; you lead people.” I thought that was a very interesting way to put things and something I had not thought about before. If Smith is right, then perhaps we need to shift our focus from developing managers to developing leaders.

Smith then went on to talk about the skills needed for leadership. It starts with foundational skills — the must-haves that include things such as ethics and integrity, self-awareness and the ability to deliver outcomes.

Next, a leader needs what Smith calls power skills, these are soft skills that focus on diversity, equity and inclusion coaching and offering feedback. Leaders also need empowering skills — those that help with growth, connection and inspiration.

Smith says leaders need to perform self-awareness assessments to see how they rank with the skills needed to be a good leader and to seek to fill in the gaps that exist. He suggests leaders need to be life-long learners and continue to add to their skill set and also continue to evaluate themselves to uncover areas where they can improve.

“We are both masterpieces and works in progress,” he said.

I like that concept too. It acknowledges that we all have many strengths but reminds us to be humble because there are always new things for us to learn.


Jane Clark focuses on managing the member services operation at NationaLease as vice president of member services. She works to strength member relationships, reduce member costs, and improve collaboration within the NationaLease supporting groups.

About the Author

Jane Clark | Senior VP of Operations

Jane Clark is Senior Vice President, Operations for NationaLease. Prior to joining NationaLease, Jane served as Area Vice President for Randstad, one of the nation’s largest recruitment agencies, and before that, she served in management posts with QPS Companies, Pro Staff, and Manpower, Inc.

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