Leaders vs. managers: how they function for good business management

Leaders and managers can go together like ice cream and chocolate sauce, or on the flipside, they can complement each other like ice cream and pickles. The key is to clearly define roles and have the right person doing the right job.

Business leadership is such a critical skill because it is the leaders who will grow the business in the fastest possible time. However, everyone has different skills, capabilities and instincts and to make the most of good business management, business leaders need to understand these two unique roles and how to have them work together in harmony.

Business leadership and business management are different roles

Look’s business and leadership coaching strategy sees the role of a leader and the role of a manager very differently.


  • Be a risk-taker
  • Be dissatisfied with mediocrity
  • Innovative
  • Inspire change


Mediate and to balance
Keep the leader “reined in” (to a degree)
Maintain and to “manage” what they have been entrusted with

Both of these roles are important, and having the right people in these roles is essential for success. To learn more about these roles see this article on why organizations need both leaders and managers.

Consider Linda and Mark:

Linda and Mark are two different leaders. They both excelled in management positions and were both promoted to a leadership position in their company. The difference is their instincts, and the way they behave in their respective positions.


Linda is never satisfied and is always pushing limits and boundaries. She is tenacious and eager to achieve. Linda takes risks. Some risks fail, but some of them will be the impetus for great success. She is an ideal candidate for the position and will enhance the company and see it thrive.

Linda’s attitude will directly impact the growth of the company. She will not stand by and let the company coast to irrelevancy, yet she needs stability and structure. Leaders can be fearless, and can sometimes make mistakes, and it is the manager’s role to help refine the choices the leader of an organization makes.

Where Linda needs to be reined in, and there are times she does, Mark is there.


Mark, on the other hand, sees his job as protecting the status quo, fitting safely within guidelines, and does not want to stir the pot. He is more of a mediator. While Mark’s goal of keeping the company out of the trouble was well suited to his role of manager, his attitude makes for a very poor leader. Carrying the same safe behaviours into leadership has the potential to stall the growth of his organization.

Mark’s internal motivators are not wrong. He was excellent as a manager and well suited to that role. He however, can not shift his instincts to become a leader because he likes – and needs – safety. Putting him in a role he is not suited for sets him up for failure.

Where Mark needs to be pushed, and there are times he does, Linda is there.

When managers are in leadership positions

We have seen examples of this with many great companies, such as Blackberry and Nortel. They slowed down and are becoming irrelevant because they have stopped being dissatisfied.

A job of a leader is to forge into the unknown – never being satisfied with walking in someone else’s footsteps. This role is demanding and perhaps even dangerous. It is cliff diving, risk-taking, living on the edge.

When leaders are in management positions

Being in a management position can stress the instincts of a leader as it is difficult for a leader to listen to authority and maintain systems. Leaders create systems, and create rules, and can lead departments but, when put in a management position, are bound to either rise in the ranks or get pushed out for being incompliant. Leaders shake the boat, thrive on change, and are never satisfied. Compromising this gift and talent leads to a frustrated employee.

Every great business needs leaders and managers to be successful

To maintain a balance, every business needs both leaders and managers. Selecting the right people in both roles is crucial to the health of every organization. Leaders should be always dissatisfied and push for improvements in everything the organization does. Managers are there to keep the leaders focused and out of trouble.

So the next time your child, or perhaps the child in you, is not satisfied with maintaining the status quo, remember that these are the leadership qualities and should be nurtured.

How to master business management

Business leadership and business management are one of the most difficult parts of working with a team. When you get this part right, and put the right people in the right place, the effect on the growth of your business is exponential. If you’d like to learn more about this critical business skill, then Zlatan would love to help you build your team and make the most of your talent by putting the right people in the right jobs.


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