“A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others see.” – Leroy Eime

Everyone has a definition of the difference between leading vs managing.

In my world, it’s simple: a manager works with a group of people to optimize their performance to do today’s work effectively – in a way that’s good for the customer, and profitable for business.

Some think that people can work autonomously without any form of management. I strongly disagree.

Whether it’s a peer-based or hierarchical system, managers are incredibly valuable as catalysts to keep things moving forward – to help people align, to focus on what’s most important.

Leaders are completely different.

Leaders take people to places they haven’t been before, and thrive on change. They define ways to cut the existing path, and create new opportunities. And while leaders are sometimes good at day-to-day coordination, their most important skill is to get people to follow them, and to change how they think and work to get to a new place.

Growing Leadership

“The best leader is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt, American President

In young companies, good managers are the often the most trusted, reliable people. But as the company grows – and your executive team grows with you – there has to be an increasing ratio of your direct reports that are highly effective leaders – not managers.

Let’s say you’re the CEO of a $10M business, and most of your direct reports are effective managers. Only one or two of them have the ability to become leaders. There’s the potential to grow to $50M, but you’re stuck at $30M because it’s five managers and you.

In order for the company to grow, you need to hand off leadership responsibilities, bit by bit. In theory:

  • At $20M two of the people you work with need to be leaders
  • At $40M three need to be leaders
  • At $60M four need to be leaders
  • At $80M all your direct reports need to be leaders.

The executives I’ve seen succeed have been committed to handing over their leadership abilities – and to making a lot of tough decisions. Not all great managers make good leaders – it’s just not in their DNA. So when they try, they don’t enjoy it, aren’t effective – and it creates stress and tension for everyone.

A Winning Combination: Strategy and Operational Optimization

What works is a leader who charts the course to where you are going next, and a manager who pulls it all together. Successful leaders (typically successful entrepreneurs) have an amazing right and left hand – amazing managers who make it all work.

The point is that there’s a natural place for all of us to thrive. If you are in a leadership role and don’t enjoy change or resist it, it’s an indicator that you may be a better manager – so be the best one you can.