Manager vs Director

Some companies hand our director titles like candy, but few really understand the distinction between a manager and a director. So here are some simple guidelines. 

Managers focus on doing things, directors focus on how things are done. 

To the manager, the day is filled with tasks done in a certain order. The focus is efficiency and a willingness to get in there and do stuff or help other people do stuff. 

To a director, the day is filled with understanding how things are done and how they might be done better. They are trying to make tasks happen but they are also looking at what should be happening and how it can happen better. 

Managers focus on projects, directors focus on visions

To the manager, the project is the largest unit of focus. The work needs to be divided up, procedures need to be followed, and people need to be motivated. 

To the director, the vision is the largest unit of focus. This is how things could be. Let’s figure out how to get there. The vision may be their own or part of a larger vision or work in coordination with several other visions, but it’s not just about doing the work it’s about changing the way things work. 

Managers focus on small time scales directors on larger ones

Managers focus on the next 7, 30, and 90 days. They live in the week month and quarter. They manage priorities, they motivate people, and they keep things running on time. 

Directors focus on the next 30, 90, 365, and 1800+ days (5 years) They live in how things will shift in the future. They see over the horizon to what’s coming and they make decisions that will shape what that future is. 

In truth, anyone can be a director. The hardest part is the shift in focus and the shift in identity. If you’ve been a trusted team member for a long time and you’re great at getting things done, learning to shift into thinking about how things happen and what’s coming next is a challenge. 

You no longer get as much done. At least not in the way that you used to. Instead of doing, you create. Instead of managing, you envision. It’s a leap beyond a simple upgrade in skills and it’s a powerful one if you have the courage to make it.