A lot of our time in nonprofits is spent interacting with each other. But we don’t take a lot of time to define our roles, or understand the roles we would like to play.

What’s a key piece of leadership that people often get wrong?

People don’t define the difference between workers, management and leadership.

If you want to move into leadership, or if you want to become a manager, here are some definitions that can help you.

Sometimes we have leaders being asked to do the work of workers. Other times we have a lack of managers, so the leader is forced to be a manager, or the workers are asked to manage themselves, which can lead to less effective outcomes for EVERYONE.

Once you start to understand this, you can start to think about how to develop the kind of experience that will allow you to become a leader, inside and outside your current organization.

So first, what’s the difference between being a worker, management and leadership?

In a nutshell, a Manager Controls things, a Leader Creates things, a Worker Does things.

Worker Does things Manager Controls things Leader Creates Things
Performs basic tasks

Performs repetitive tasks

Needs and uses resources

Develops task-specific expertise

Finds new business

Creates product/provides service

Enlists new customers and clients

Follows rules

Needs management and leadership

Interacts with outsiders

Responsible for own effort, production and sales

Works independently

Lacks overarching viewpoint

Takes direction from others

Provides feedback to the organization

Keeps track of things

Budgets, makes ends meet, and plans


Solves problems

Rules-oriented and Systems based

Needs leaders and workers

Interacts internally, keeps people in line with systems

Responsible for performance of the organization

Deductive process

Creates structure-risk averse

Uses authority and rules, gives direction, keeps everyone lined up

Monitors organizational culture

Changes things

Finds resources

Gets the mission defined

Creates an environment

Shakes things up

Sets direction and tone

Aligns people, internal locus of control, creative risk taker

Imagination based

Needs managers and workers

Interacts with outsiders, inspires people

Responsible for overall outcome

Inductive process

Creates mandates, risk taker

Uses influence, convinces, shows direction

Monitors outside culture

Does this make it clearer for you?

If you are recognizing yourself in the manager type instead of the leader, and would prefer to be a manager, that’s wonderful. We need more good managers. Or maybe you’re content to be a worker. That’s OK too! And learning about these types can help you define and manage your career. If you’re looking to be a leader, what might you do to start building some of these skills, now?

Are you constantly looking to trends to see what you should try?

Are you interested in finding resources, or setting the tone for organizational culture?

You might just be a leader! And what makes a good leader? (Check your current leader to see if they have some of these traits)

  1. Ambitiousness (appropriate amount)
  2. Establishes strong relationships
  3. Consistent high performance
  4. Team-building skills
  5. Intelligence
  6. Willingness to take appropriate risks
  7. Adaptability
  8. Being a problem solver

These ideas for good leadership come from the center for Creative Leadership, (Leslie and Van Velsor, in 1996)

If you’d like 99 more resources on nonprofit leadership, check out my comprehensive page here!