Managing vs Leading – Part One

Most people who find themselves in a leadership position for the first time got there because they were good at doing whatever they were doing. They were then promoted to lead their former co-workers.

That’s great except for the fact that they are very unlikely to actually lead. They make what is the most common leadership mistake of all. They assume that their new position makes them a leader. It absolutely does not!

Your position or title gives you an opportunity to earn the chance to lead. Nothing more and nothing less.

Most people appointed to a leadership position tend to “lead” the way they were “led” by the people who they worked for. If you had a bad boss then you’ve got a head start on being a bad boss yourself. If you were managed instead of led then you’ll likely attempt to manage your people as well.

The problems associated with trying to manage another human being are too numerous to list here. But here are some of the big ones.

Poor attitude. People resist being managed, they need leadership. So managed people tend to have poor attitudes. They push back against being managed in a ton of ways, some subtle and some not so subtle. They procrastinate when given a directive. They have attendance issues. They seem to require constant attention. They question almost every decision. They resist, sometimes massively, any kind of change.

Research shows they most people are terminated due to some type of attitude issue. What most people in leadership positions fail to understand is that it was their lack of ability to truly lead that caused the poor attitude of the person they just fired.

If you’re tempted to say that you are not responsible for the attitude of your people then please immediately stop thinking of yourself as a leader. Developing an environment and culture that helps nurture a positive attitude is a prime responsibility of Authentic Leadership.

Lack of initiative. Every employer wants “self-starters” or people who can work effectively while unsupervised. But managed people seldom take the initiative….for anything but lunch and break periods. Even people with a “go-getter” mentality don’t go very far when managed instead of led. They do what it says to do in their job description (maybe) and not much more. If someone who works for you refuses to do something that isn’t explicitly spelled out in their job description that’s a sure sign they feel as if they are being managed. People who feel managed do the bare minimum required to keep their job. When you think about it that’s only fair since their manager is doing the bare minimum to help them do it.

High turnover and low morale. When you attempt to use your position or title to force the compliance of your people you cause low morale. You also cause higher turnover. Authentic Leaders earn the commitment of their people by leading them. Leaders in name only try to manage their people and the only real “tools” they have are fear and coercion. That might get them the appearance of compliance but it will not earn them commitment. High turnover and low morale will cause even high performers to disengage. No business can afford even one disengaged employee but some research shows as many as 70% of the employees at an average business are disengaged.

Average businesses and organizations attempt to manage their people rather than lead them.

Are you managing your people to an average performance or are you leading them to excellence?

13 thoughts on “Managing vs Leading – Part One

  1. Both are good though we all agree that being a leader is way better than being a manager. But I think we can be both a manager and a leader at the same time.

    1. Managing and leading are very different skill sets. They are both absolutely necessary if an organization hopes to succeed. And yes, some people can indeed do both but not as many as we might think.

  2. You said, “Most people appointed to a leadership position tend to “lead” the way they were “led” by the people who they worked for. If you had a bad boss then you’ve got a head start on being a bad boss yourself.”

    I think this can’t be applied in isolation. If you have a bad boss, how that affects you is a question of how that bad boss fitted into the organisation. If your bad boss was reinforced by the organisation, then they will pass on their bad boss traits.

    But if you are aware that they are a bad boss, this opens up new options. You can either look at a bad boss, see them being supported (or not challenged), and do likewise later in your career because that’s the model of success you’ve been shown.

    If you recognise the bad boss traits and resolve to avoid them, you will do differently within your own jurisdiction, and seek out others in the organisation who share your views. If the organisation doesn’t support you and others who think like you, in time you will migrate to organisations that DO offer that support. Over time, we see organisations that rely on Type A management models and support bad bosses fail, and innovative organisations that focus on individuals being properly led and allowed to flourish, themselves flourish and become runaway successes.

    1. I would encourage you to reread the post of the post you’re asking about. I did not say having a bad boss will make you a bad boss, I said you have a head start on being a bad boss. We can indeed learn what NOT to do from a bad boss and make the effort to NOT repeat the same mistakes. Sadly far too few people in leadership positions learn the lessons they need to learn from a bad boss.

      1. That was my point – that if you recognise the traits of a bad boss and work not to follow that lead, then you will not be a bad boss yourself. But this is helped – or hindered – by the organisation. And if an organisation reinforces bad behaviour and practices, they will perpetuate those practices, both in the impact on those who have to work for the bad bosses and the way that they will recruit to match the toxic culture. They will exercise mis-leadership rather than leadership.

        The leadership you are trying to build requires the right environment. If the organisation supports good leadership, then it will flourish. But if it is indifferent, or worse, if it actively reinforces bad management, then all the good leadership that individuals display will come to nothing; those individuals will in due course leave, and the enterprise will ultimately fail. I speak from experience here; I have worked in both kinds of organisation. And I’m pleased that I now work for a company that encourages people to exercise leadership skills – and we are reaping the benefits.

      2. I absolute agree. A person with a bad boss can indeed be “rescued” by a good organizational culture. What I can’t for the life of me understand is why an organization with a good culture allows that bad boss to slow or even stop the growth of the people who report to them.

      3. I think it’s the “one bad apple” effect. As with so many things in life, the price of maintaining an organisational culture that nurtures its people and allows them space to grow is eternal vigilance.

  3. For this “Most people appointed to a leadership position tend to “lead” the way they were “led” by the people who they worked for. If you had a bad boss then you’ve got a head start on being a bad boss yourself. If you were managed instead of led then you’ll likely attempt to manage your people as well.” God bless you, sir. 💞🤗

  4. With this insightful and well-researched piece, I am belly full, sir.

    You are appreciated.


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