Managing or Leading?

Trying to be a great leader without also being a great manager is like an army with loads of generals but no sergeants

Today there’s a lot of emphasis put on being a good leader in organisations of all shapes and sizes. This is only right; leadership is one of the things that can make the difference between a business or an organisation being just OK and being great.

What I think leadership can’t do on it’s own, is to take a business from being new or poor to being OK. Or to sustain greatness once it’s been reached. To do those things, you also need great management.

I sometimes see individuals and organisations making the mistake of thinking that leaders and managers are different people. Maybe it’s an ego thing? Or something sensible to do (at least on an individual, short-run level) because maybe ‘leaders’ are considered more important than or get paid more than managers?


Whatever the reason, I reckon that a better way to think of it is as the way that people in your organisation spend their attention.


Way back in the early twentieth century, industrialist Henry Fayol wrote that all managers perform five functions: Planning, Organising, Commanding, Coordinating and Controlling. These days people still use Fayol’s definition of Management, but tend to shorten it to:

  • Planning
  • Organising
  • Leading
  • Controlling.

Right there we can see that the very definition of management actually includes leading – that is, leadership is a subset of managing and not a replacement for it.

Think of it this way – and I’ve tried to show this in the graph at the top of this article:

As you get more and more senior in your organisation the focus of your attention should shift away from the “Stuff” that’s involved in doing the Planning, Organising and Controlling that Fayol described. Now you need to give more of your attention to People. And that’s where your skills as a great leader come in.

You have to do this. A lot of my coaching work is about helping people to make this transition, to shift their focus away from managing the stuff and towards inspiring and empowering people.

If this isn’t done, if senior people don’t make this shift, it’s very hard for individuals, teams and whole businesses to rise above ‘OK’. This is why, when you ask someone how they’re doing, and they’re doing alright but not brilliant, they’ll reply: “It’s OK, I’m managing.”


However, this doesn’t mean that you do no management at all as you get more senior.

In fact, I’d argue that the smaller amount of your time and attention that remains available for managing means that you need to be really, really efficient and effective at it.

Your Planning and Organising needs to be spot-on AND to include other people, so that they can contribute to and buy into it. Your ability to Control (monitor, feedback and adjust) has to be light-touch, well-connected to the overall purpose of the business AND flexible and robust enough to adapt to external conditions.

As you make that essential shift and give more of your attention to leading through others, don’t forget how to still be a great manager too.

The sergeant is the army
Dwight Eisenhower


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers

1 reply
  1. Fred Schrader
    Fred Schrader says:

    I’ve never seen it this clear, but you’re totally right. Shifting from “getting stuff done” to leading people is the turn you’ve got to take “on the executive floor”. Thanks for sharing this!

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