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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


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Some Dogs Look Like Their Owners

What leadership is and why your business reflects your leadership style whether you want it to or not

I discovered the other day that there’s an entire online sub-culture dedicated to sharing candid snaps of dogs who look like their owners.

As a coach, speaker & business owner, I’ve met lots of organisational leaders and I think the same can be said for them.

Whether you like it or not, if you are a leader, your organisation will tend to represent your leadership style.

Unless you’re pretty senior and in a fairly big organisation that has structured training programmes, there’s a good chance you don’t even think about yourself as a ‘leader’.

So, if you are a leader (even if it is without knowing it), perhaps you should take a moment to think about what impression you are leaving on your followers – even if not deliberately.

It’s not about woolly jumpers and TV shows

Within small and medium-sized businesses, the term ‘leader’ actually seems a label that people are quite reluctant to use, which is hardly surprising. The glossy magazines have been pushing the ‘leader-as-celebrity’ for years.

We see pictures of Sir Richard Branson, or Donald Trump or Sheryl Sandberg on the covers of business magazines, and we feel that a true leader is an ego-driven, revolutionary, caricature.

And while there’s a lot to learn from (and aspire to) about those leaders, we’re perhaps more likely to think “I’m running a business with a 150 people in it, not Virgin or Facebook”, and the term leadership is left for those who are happier to be in the public spotlight.

The downside is this: If you don’t accept that you’re actually a leader, and actively shape and sculpt your leadership style, your organisation is likely to represent you – whether you like it, or not.

You see, there are a few fundamental truths about leadership:

  • Even without the label of leadership to describe whatever this thing is, businesses will still take on their leaders’ personality and all the good (and not so good) things that involves
  • People will still follow the person who provides them with leadership; Whether that’s who you want it to be, or somebody else who does this stuff better
  • Customers will still be attracted to those businesses that have a clear focus and can get things done well, and on time.

In other words, the success of any organisation rests firmly on the quality of its leadership – so we might as well give a little thought to what leadership is.

What is a Leader?

One of my favourite academic books (Organizational Behavior, Robbins & Judge) has this definition:

Leadership is the ability to influence a group toward the achievement of a vision or a set of goals.

I see where that’s coming from and it’s certainly useful, but it feels a little abstract. Perhaps one of the issues with an academic’s definition, is that they are probably the one group of people who don’t ever really need to do that much leading!

Business gurus also have lots to say about leadership, and tend to focus on comparisons between leadership and management, or between good and bad leadership. So you get this kind of thing, which is from John C. Maxwell, one of the writers I’ve found most useful:

The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.

Again, it makes some sense, but what if you’re in a job where you’re not the person in charge of deciding when to adjust the sails – does that say you’re not a leader? And if so, does that make you just a passenger on the boat?

My own definition of leadership is as flawed as all the others, and comes from years of just wanting to get stuff done, in big organisations, as well as really small ones, and from wanting to help other people who are also trying to make their business successful:

A leader is anybody who wants to do important stuff and needs other people to help

Decide for yourself how useful or otherwise you’d find my definition of leadership in running your own business or organisation. I’m going to leave the last word to somebody much wiser than me:

If you want to go fast,
Go alone.

If you want to go far,
Go together.

African proverb


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Are You a Leader?

Test yourself against these contemporary definitions of leadership and see if you fit the bill

Ask 10 professors and business gurus for a definition of leadership and you’ll get at least 20 different answers. These will range from the gnomic:

The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.
John Maxwell
(that’s great John, will be useful next time I’m out sailing)

… to the prosaic:

 The ability to influence a group toward the achievement of a vision or a set of goals.
Robbins & Judge
(see ‘Organizational Behavior’, pub Pearson – really useful book though)

I’m such a simpleton and always so keen to get on and actually do things, that I need something a little easier to remember, straightforward to apply and easy to share. So here’s my definition. A leader is:

Anybody who wants to do something important
and needs other people to help.

How do you frame your own brand of leadership, and what does it mean to you?


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers