Are you a leader or a manager?

Should a practice have a brilliant manager or a bright leader? Without question, both are needed.

Which career is better? Should you be a leader or a manager? Should a practice have a brilliant manager or a bright leader? Photo ©BigStockPhoto.comWhether you are, or should be, a leader or a manager, is one of the most classic controversies in the management (or leadership) world. The differences between a manager and a leader are often misunderstood. The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, yet they are vastly different.

When a leader tries to be a manager, or when a manager plays leader, confusion and frustration occur.

What follows is a collection of quotes, distinctions, and nuances collected over the past 10 years. They were borrowed from authors, business leaders, managers, mentors, speakers, and personal experience.1 Some statements have been used, reused, copied, and paraphrased so many times, it is difficult to know who the original author truly is. Other quotes have the actual author (see below).

  1. A leader defines the right direction to take.
    A manager minimizes the time and resources it takes to get there.
  2. A leader figures out the right things to do.
    A manager does those things right.
  3. A leader figures out the what, where and why.
    A manager figures out how and by when.
  4. A leader decides which train the team will board, where it is going and how fast.
    A manager makes sure the train is equipped with everything it needs to operate without ever running out of supplies, with the ideal number of team members, doing exactly what they are supposed to do, without a lack of (wo)manpower (yet, gosh darned, no overtime!), then makes sure the train leaves and arrives on time.
  5. A leader is concerned with people.
    A manager focuses on processes and systems.
  6. People report to managers.
    People follow leaders.
  7. A manager keeps their eyes on the bottom line.
    A leader scrutinizes the horizon.
  8. A leader leads people.
    A manager manages work.
  9. A manager makes sure we are climbing the ladder effectively.
    A leader makes sure the ladder is leaning against the right wall.
  10. A manager drives goals.
    A leader champions a vision.
  11. A leader sells people on ideas and ambitious goals.
    A manager tells people what to do to reach those goals.
  12. A leader takes risks.
    A manager minimizes risks.
  13. A leader challenges the status quo.
    A manager maintains the status quo.
  14. A leader thinks long-term.
    A manager thinks short-term.
  15. A leader charts new roads.
    A manager follows a map.
  16. A manager votes with their head.
    A leader votes with their heart.
  17. A leader coaches.
    A manager directs.
  18. A leader motivates.
    A manager measures.
  19. A manager organizes.
    A leader empowers.
  20. A leader creates the vision.
    A manager implements the vision.
  21. A leader innovates.
    A manager administers.
  22. A leader develops.
    A manager maintains.
  23. A leader inspires trust.
    A manager relies on control.
  24. A leader originates.
    A manager imitates.
  25. A leader works on the system.
    A manager works in the system.
  26. A manager focuses on planning and budgeting.
    A leader concentrate on setting the direction.
  27. A manager focuses on problem-solving.
    A leader motivates and inspires.
  28. A manager works on objectives.
    A leader works on vision and mission.
  29. A leader asks great questions.
    A manager strives to find answers.
  30. A leader inspires people to do things they never thought they could.
    A manager persuades people to do things they may not want to do.
  31. A manager focuses on staffing and training.
    A leader grows new leaders.
  32. A manager seeks stability and control.
    A leader tolerates chaos, and sometimes thrives on it.
  33. A leader can have the most ambitious, extravagant, earth-shattering vision.
    A manager is who will help recruit and direct the A-team to get there.

So, which career is better? Should you be a leader or a manager? Should a practice have a brilliant manager or a bright leader?

Without question, both are needed. Both serve a vital role in growing a successful and durable enterprise.

A practice without a strong leader has no vision, no mission, no direction. A practice without an effective manager is utter chaos.

It is important to understand neither leaders nor managers should feel diminished or insulted by any of these quotes. Admittedly, every single statement could be argued over until the day dogs brush their own teeth.

Just to make the discussion more complex, managers need some leadership traits, and leaders need some management skills (see below). Again, any successful business needs both positions to thrive. Which one you fulfill is a matter of training, background, personal preference, aptitude, and opportunity.


According to the Center for Creative Leadership, great leaders consistently have the following qualities:

  • Honesty
  • Delegation
  • Communication
  • Sense of humor
  • Confidence
  • Commitment
  • Positive attitude
  • Creativity
  • Ability to inspire
  • Intuition


Here is a list of 10 traits of the best managers, gleaned from various authors and personal experience:

  • Experience
  • Communication
  • Organization
  • Time management
  • Reliability
  • Respect for employees
  • Creativity
  • Intuition
  • Focus
  • Discipline


  • “Are leaders born or made? This is a false dichotomy. Leaders choose to be leaders.” – Stephen Covey
  • “Leadership is the ability to get extraordinary achievement from ordinary people.” – Brian Tracy
  • “Leadership is not about holding power over others or illuminating our own greatness. It’s about cultivating and inspiring leadership in those around us.” – Darren Hardy
  • “Management’s job is to convey leadership’s message in a compelling and inspiring way. Not just in meetings, but also by example.” – Jeffrey Gitomer
  • “No one yet has figured out how to manage people effectively into battle; they must be led.” – John Kotter

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified, is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur whose traveling surgery practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. He also is cofounder of Veterinary Financial Summit, an online community
and conference dedicated to personal and practice finance (

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