The Way Managers are Different from Directors


Perhaps you’re working as a manager and would like to make the leap from manager to director. Before you can make the jump from manager to director, you need to understand the difference between the two. Understanding the difference is crucial.

I recently spoke to someone about this topic. It’s the type of thing that seems obvious at surface level. From a technical perspective, you could differentiate them by saying that Managers manages people, but directors manages Managers. Technically, this answer is correct.

But how are they different beyond this? What qualifies an employee for a position as a Manager? What experience and skills are necessary to be a Director?

That’s less obvious.

I’ve been going over the what makes a Manager different from a Director. It’s very clear that there’s a lot more differentiating the two roles than just pay scale and seniority. The expectations, skills, and mindset of them are different. This difference means that some managers will never reach the requirements to be a director. Other people will barely even blink as they move from one level to the other.

For most of us, will need to go through a process to understand the mindset of a Manager. We will need to develop the vision of how that mindset would have to shift before being ready for the role of a Director.

At their cores, both roles state how they function in their titles. A Manager manages, but a Director directs. It’s similar to the subtle difference in the words strategy and tactics. A Director directs people as to where they must go. A Manager drives people in that proper direction. The Director holds the map, and the Manager drives the wagon.

The reason time is required for some employees to go from Manager to Director – and why some never do – is because the wisdom and experience to come up with a plan are required for directing people, instead of simply having the skills to execute the plan.

Many people agree that vision is the core requirement of leadership. Vision refers to an understanding of where you want to go as a business. Senior leadership in a company is responsible for coming up with that vision – we have this as our goal – but it’s the Directors who determine how to achieve that vision; and then they direct the managers who report to them on how to carry out the plan of the roadmap they created.

That’s the key difference between someone who manages and someone who directs. Managers are handed a road-map, and their responsibility to rally the people reporting to them and get them to follow the plan. The role of the Director is much more challenging – create the plan.

Creating a plan requires a lot of skills and experience which managers most likely don’t have yet – understanding what can be accomplished and knowing how resources can best be applied to do that. Beyond those skills, there’s a crucial difference in the mindset require of a Director.

Managers follows the plan given to them, but they’re not responsible for it. In contrast, a Director must justify their course of action to senior leadership, the Managers, and the employees reporting to the Managers. Senior leadership demands to know that Directors can get the job done. The Managers and people who report to them want to know from the Director that the course of action is the best one.

If there are any roadblocks on the way there, they need the conviction and strength to push through – regardless of potential arguments from higher ups and people lower in authority. More importantly, if arguments increase, they need the wisdom to know if the plan continues to be worth sticking to, or if the plan should change.

As a Director you’re at a point in career at which there isn’t a safety net. People expect you to think of how to do things, instead of simply thinking of what to do – and you’re responsible for those plans succeeding or failing. That point in a career is the furnace through which the senior leadership of the next generation is forged. That’s an incredible opportunity as well as a daunting challenge.

You must demonstrate that you possess the conviction, wisdom, and vision to direct. If you don’t work to develop those attributes, and display them through the work you do, then you won’t be promoted to director.

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