Managing to Leading : Feature Article; V3 Issue 3

Are you currently leading your team members or managing them? Should you lead them or manage them? I think before we attempt to answer all these questions we need to understand the difference between leading and managing. The debate on whether there is a difference between being a leader and manager has been raging for years now. Most agree that there is definitely a difference.

Difference between a Leader and a Manager

In ‘What Leaders Really Do’, John P. Kotter states, "Management and leadership both involve deciding what needs to be done, creating networks of people to accomplish the agenda, and ensuring that the work actually gets done. Their work is complementary, but each system of action goes about the tasks in different ways."

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An important distinction is that while people are required to follow managers, they choose to follow leaders. So while people work for managers because they are supposed to as part of their job description, people work for leaders because he or she inspires them. The life of Alexander the Great illustrates this difference. Though he was a great leader, Alexander was a lousy manager. His hatred of bureaucracy and his need for excitement prevented him from building a governmental machine of systems, accountabilities, and procedures. Consequently, his legendary empire disintegrated immediately upon his death. Not once in the following fifteen hundred years did the Romans have a leader who could fill the shadow of Alexander the Great. Yet their system for management held the Roman Empire together decade after decade, century after century, even when some incompetent leaders imposed stupid decisions on their people. Marcus Buckingham, in ‘The One Thing You Need to Know About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success’, defines leadership as follows: "… is that ability to form a vision of a better future and then to explain that vision so effectively that the leader is followed." 

Warren Bennis, in his book ‘On Becoming a Leader’ … describes his view of the differences between managers and leaders as “To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion.” Richard Daft added a few more to the first 12 differences mentioned by Warren Bennis in the following table.

As you can see it is more difficult to play the role of a leader than a manager. So what should one be? Should one be a Leader or a Manager?

There was a time when managing and leading could be separated. But in the knowledge economy, where value comes increasingly from the knowledge of people, management and leadership cannot be easily separated. People expect their managers to define for them a purpose and not just to assign them a task. And managers must manage employees, not just to maximize efficiency, but to nurture skills, develop talent and inspire results. With the rise of the knowledge worker, “one does not ‘manage’ people,” Peter Drucker wrote. “The task is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual". I suggest you work on becoming a good manager first. Most leaders evolve after being managers; they start by being good managers and work towards being good leaders. That is what you should also be doing.


Transitioning from being a Manager to being a Leader

Now comes the tough part of actually becoming a good leader. Here are some tips to help you make that transition from being a manager to a leader.

 Know and formally learn what a leader does: Understanding the difference between being an effective manager and an effective leader will help you understand what you must focus on doing. Attend leadership workshops and classes. They can give you new ideas or help you develop specific skills. Pick classes that add tangible value to you. Sometimes the value could be the relationships you establish with other participants. Read history and the biographies of leaders to see how they did things. Read relevant business magazines and books to know what your industry leaders are doing differently that you can emulate.


   Leave the management to others: Ensure managing is done by others so that you are free to spend time leading. You can divide the management responsibility among different team members. So while you make one person in charge of the planning and budgeting, another could be made in charge of monitoring quality etc. This also means that you will have to coach your team members to be good managers. Though you need not now control everything, be prepared to still do some amount of managing when the need arises.


   Learn from others: If so far you have been emulating role models who are great mangers, then it’s time for you to find good role models in leadership. When faced with a leadership problem, ask yourself how your role models would handle the situation. Discuss your leadership problems with them. People who have been bosses for a while have had to deal with many leadership situations. Adapt their advice to your situation and your personal style. Also find a good mentor who can guide you in sorting out your leadership challenges.


   Develop the key characteristics of true leader: Everything else will fall in place. Work towards becoming….


      A visionary: While managers handle the day-to-day activities of a business, leaders have a bird's-eye view on industry indicators and market trends to see where their businesses are going in the next six months to one year.

      A planner:Leaders are able to take what they see from that bird's-eye view and translate it into a business plan that reflects market conditions and gets results.

      A collaborator: Leaders know they need help, and they cannot do everything alone. And really good leaders are able to identify, recruit and collaborate with people and other organizations that can add value to their business.

      An enabler:Great leaders enable their employees to reach and achieve more by getting them what they need to do their jobs.

      A motivator:When your team members feel they own their job, they reach new heights of achievement and motivation. And leaders are able to get everyone to accept personal responsibility to get their jobs done well.


   Seek feedback on how you are doing as a leader: Develop a plan on what leadership skills you intend to develop and by when. Review your progress against this plan. Good feedback is essential to efficient and effective growth. Ask your boss, your peers and your team how you're doing and how you can do better. Critique your own performance every time you take a significant leadership action. Ask yourself what you wanted to accomplish, what you did, and how things came out. Determine what you will repeat and what you will do differently next time.


While you can learn 20 percent about leadership in the classroom and from books, the rest 80 percent, you need to learn on the job. So it is important that you volunteer for assignments that give you opportunities to lead. Or start leading in your current role as a manager. Mr. Buckingham states that "The starting points are different. The talents required to excel at each are different." When you want to manage, begin with the person. When you want to lead, begin with the picture of where you are headed. Managing is about coping with complexity. Leadership, by contrast, is about coping with change. Leaders aren't made or born. Leadership is a choice and a belief. Choose to be a leader and believe you can be one.




   ‘Leader V/S Manager’, Wednesday, March 28, 2007

   What is the Difference Between Management and Leadership?

   Geno, ‘20 Differences Between Management & Leadership

   Sterling, W.A, ‘Leader-Manager: Is there a difference?

   Corcoran ,B, ‘Shed the Manager Role and Become a Leader’, Aug. 10, 2009,

   Bock,W, ‘Leadership Tips’

Walking the Talk – Leaders demonstrating Team Work: Feature Article; V3 Issue 2


In the words of one highly successful plant manager, "My biggest challenge is not getting our employees to work together because they will if we lead them that way... The biggest issue is getting all our managers to work together and cooperate, which can be a daunting task." Why is walking the talk in team work so difficult for leaders. Let’s see an example.

Brijesh Kumar, the Sales and Marketing Manager of a product company was at his wits end. His company had not met the commitments made to one of his biggest customers for the third time in a row this quarter. He would surely lose this customer to his competition. What was happening? Had he not done his best in providing leadership to his team he thought? Brijesh may have led his team well. But there is something else amiss. On all the three occasions Brijesh had faced problems from the production and supply chain side. The Production Head had delayed the product manufacture citing reasons like unavailability of raw material, unrealistic delivery goals committed by sales and lack of machine capacity. The Supply Chain Head had on the other hand had argued that there was no proper forecast of the requirement, vendors had defaulted and that raw material rejection had taken place. Clearly there is limited collaboration among the team making Brijesh and his peers viz., the operational leadership team in the company ineffective.

Leadership team is a group of managers at the same organizational level who need to collaborate together to meet organizational goals. Small enterprises may have only one leadership team, while large organizations have several teams at each layer of their hierarchy. For a member of a leadership team to be effective he/she should not only be a good team leader but also a good team member– a good team member for his peers. But often this is not easy because the team sometimes work at cross purposes as seen in the case of Brijesh. In fact there are significant challenges to getting the leadership team to function as a good team, despite the obvious benefits to the organization.


Why team work in a leadership team is difficult

All leadership team members need to successfully wear two hats, that of functional leaders and organizational leaders. Selected for their knowledge and expertise, they own functional responsibilities. At the same time they have an organizational leadership responsibility which may supersede their functional responsibility. For example, the Sales and Marketing Head, has a primary responsibility for the Sales function of the organization and as a member of the leadership team also carries a responsibility towards organizational success. So to be an effective team member he/she must understand the difference between these two roles and play both the roles. Since the primary purpose of management team members is to make decisions, they must regularly try to reach agreement on critical issues.  Conflicting interests can make this process difficult.

A research survey conducted on manufacturing managers identified factors preventing managers from working together and the problems created when managers in a manufacturing operation do not work together. The survey results were as follows:-

To summarize, ineffective team work between the managers led to loss of employee morale, decrease in productivity and adverse impact on customers and profitability of the company. The factors preventing the managers from cooperating were not only on account of differences in individual personalities and aspirations, but also on account of organization systems and top leadership not effectively supporting team work

Having understood the challenges of working as an effective leadership team now let’s look at the ways in which we can improve the team work among leadership team members.


Building leadership team cohesion and synergy

An individual manager might struggle with a problem with his/her limited view of the problem. If the manager tables this problem in a meeting with other managers, he will have different views of the problem and someone might have an answer right away. He/she would be experiencing the rewards of collaboration. A significant advantage of a team is the power of collaboration. When people work together on problems, the different views and interpretations of the problem, plus the different facts and knowledge people in the team bring with them, create better solutions. Also, the solution identified would have support across functions, and likelihood of successful implementation increases exponentially. So you can contribute to better team effectiveness of the leadership team you belong to by following the principles of collaboration.

Principles of Collaboration

  • Understand and call upon the specific skills, strengths or knowledge of each team member
  • Listen with open-minds and open the minds of others to different ideas
  • Relentlessly look for ways to make things better
  • Confidently and constructively speak your mind - Freely speak your mind without fear at crucial points during important meetings, rather than later at the water cooler and listen to feedback without hesitation

  • Passionately debate ideas without getting defensive
  • Don't hoard knowledge and business expertise
  • Debate with a higher level of intensity and diversity of thought
  • Structure discussions that lead to action, not endless meetings and conversation
  • Adapt effectively and creatively to corporate and economic change
  • Balance free-thinking and creativity with business discipline
  • Remove politics from conversations
  • Create an environment where ideas are encouraged from and by everyone, without threat of embarrassment or disapproval. When collaboration is working really well, team members listen closely to each other, build on each other’s ideas, amend them, drop them, pick them up again, and come up with new ones.

The research survey conducted on manufacturing managers also identified the following top ten factors for getting managers to cooperate with each other and to function as a team:-

  1. Develop unifying super-ordinate goals that focus on needed outcomes
  2. Top management must demonstrate and foster cooperation
  3. Provide team-based rewards or incentives for desired behaviors and outcomes
  4. Identify and resolve management problems and conflicts in a timely fashion
  5. Team-based performance measurement and feedback devices
  6. Team-building activities; teaming skills development
  7. Create management team ownership of decision processes and outcomes
  8. Integrate planning, problem-solving, and communication processes
  9. Clarify each manager's roles and goals to every other manager
  10. Build understanding and consensus around production processes and systems



Individual members of leadership teams at all levels need to work together better to be more effective in their individual roles and for being more effective as a leadership team as a whole. Improved team cohesion makes working a more positive experience for both the team members as well as for the people the team members lead. In the wise words of a manager from the study on manufacturing managers, "When we [managers] work together, it is amazing how much better things run and how much easier it is to come to work."



  • McIntyre M G., Ph.D., ‘Building an Effective management Team’,
  • Longenecker, Clinton O, ‘Building High Performance Management Teams’,
  • ‘Team Collaboration at Work’,
  • ‘Team Collaboration’,

Leading in Tough Times – Some Perspectives : Feature Article; V3 Issue 1

In easy times resources are relatively abundant and the environment is relatively stable. Employees are excited, committed and eager to contribute. Potential customers are cash rich and are willing and able to buy your product. You can reasonably assume what works today will work tomorrow.  In difficult times the opposite is true and the business is challenged on multiple dimensions. What this essentially means is that in tough times leaders need to review and re-calibrate their leadership stance to sustain energy in their companies and to ensure their companies continue thriving.


Sustaining the energy

Let’s begin with the balance required between optimism and critical skepticism. In easy times, it is the leader’s responsibility to be skeptical when everyone around is getting excited and thinking everything will work. Being skeptical enough to ensure that passion and drive find effective and productive channels, works in good times. In difficult times, you need to lean towards the other end ie., keeping hope alive and reminding everyone about the numerous possibilities. Grounded optimism, reinforced with data keeps team energies buoyant. It’s a delicate balance to strike – grounded optimism which convinces the team, not exaggerated optimism that makes the rest of the organization skeptical. Stay credible enough to persuade. And also be inspiring.

I like this example of inspiration. At the end of World War II, Japanese business leader Matsushita stood before a gathering of his dejected, demoralized workforce, in an occupied country, with all the company’s inventory taken by the occupying power. He spoke about how taking the lead in quality and innovation and low prices would force competitors to do the same and “in 250 years would eliminate poverty in Japan.” He sat down to silence. Then, one by one his employees stood up, some with tears in their eyes, and said “I think I could dedicate my life to this.” Much of Japan’s progress can be traced back to moments like this in its history. As a leader you must also leverage the power of a shared purpose in these tough times.  Focus energy on long-term goals, especially stretch ones. Goals set a direction. Every day, people will think of that goal and how to move towards it. A stretch goal is like the Star. If you keep your eye fixed on the Star, you aim high and challenge your abilities - you may not reach the Star. But you will also go farther up than someone who is looking only at the apple on a tree. In difficult times, stretch goals look even more unattainable than they do in easy times. You will find people throwing up their hands, saying “That’s impossible! I’m just going to stay focused on the apple.”  As a leader, watch out for this tendency and help them deal with it.

Now in the process of reaching for the Stars there are bound to be mistakes. Adding to that, the cautious sentiment slows responses to changing environmental conditions, stress levels are higher and mistakes tend to get magnified. Also mistakes are more often visible since the world is less forgiving, now. Make your people realize how in such times, it is even more important that we handle mistakes and disappointments well. Mistakes are part of learning how to be effective in the current context.   If we handle a mistake well, the penalty is small. If we mishandle it say by covering it up etc then the penalty can be severe. Honest mistakes are not avoidable and rarely will they destroy a company. But not dealing with them in an honest and straightforward manner can have far reaching negative consequences for the company. Feeling less valuable, less knowledgeable, and less effective are likely outcomes of making more mistakes.  And this can sap productivity. As a leader, you can help ensure that those perfectly normal feelings do not interfere with your team members’ ability to contribute. Ensure your people retain confidence in themselves.

Another thing that can happen is infighting. When budgets are tighter, it is quite common to see employees becoming defensive, territorial, and competitive. Intensified negative politics at all levels can sap valuable energy and focus, causing a failure in meeting the challenges of facing external threats from competitors, customers, and suppliers. So, create more opportunities to bring your people together, encouraging questions and healthy discussions.

When the going is good there is money to spend on training and benefits, career growth opportunities exist, monetary rewards are strong. Limited business growth impacts all of them and employees may feel financially challenged.   Let people know that "we are in this together." You must also make sacrifices if you are asking or expecting your people to do so. Consider the example of Delta Airlines. While the senior people at most airlines took bonuses amidst record losses, the CEO of Delta Airlines turned down his yearly salary. This prompted a business column to say that Delta was "least likely" to go out of business of all major U.S. airlines. So, say a big ‘NO’ to any management bonuses while initiating layoffs.

Talking of layoffs, in tough times, employees get nervous about job security, career progress and sustainability of company operations. When things are going good, employees hearing about them through newspapers is fine. But bad news should always be conveyed by insiders first. Leaders should keep the channels of communication wide open, keeping people informed about what is happening and how the company is responding. When rumors do emerge, respond promptly. Communicate more than usual and more than you think you need to. During tough times employees need to see more of you. Taking regular rounds and chatting up with employees is essential in such times to be more visible and accessible. There is the story of Xenophon, a Greek military leader in 400 B.C.E., who believed in the value of making himself accessible to even the lowest ranks of his men. With the Athenian army in danger of imminent attack and its back to a raging river two of Xenophon’s foot soldiers managed to locate a river crossing that would allow the army to escape. Because of the trust between the leader and his followers they went directly to Xenophon with their discovery. Xenophon took immediate action, and the army succeeded in escaping.

Now I know I have not touched upon the business aspects in our discussion. I leave that to the management strategist. But a clear opportunity exists to align the entire organization for efficiency. Improve the coordination and alignment of departments, strengthen performance tracking and review mechanisms, focus on waste management, lean principles etc.   Leaders should frame an agenda and meet with key stakeholders to gain support and build commitment to efficiency goals.

More than ever be curious, become aware - to understand and deal with your company’s situation better.  You need fresh ideas to help you respond to the new challenges and opportunities effectively. Read more broadly than before. Be alert for trends, ideas and approaches that you have never explored before. Question your assumptions. Always ask yourself: “What if…” and explore possibilities.  Connect with leading thinkers in your industry.  

Lastly a word on values and culture, Ok maybe more than a word. Under tough conditions, typically rational people can start to act in ways that are self-destructive and dangerous for the organization. In such scenarios organization’s values and culture can protect against this. A person previously good with maintaining client relationships may now start focusing more on squeezing the client rather than considering the best interests of the client. But a company that values client progress will be able to discourage such behaviour. In difficult times leaders have to pay even more attention to the values and culture of their organization. One way to do this is by a leader personally responding to changes effectively.


Personally responding to changes effectively

Your assumptions dictate your personal response to changes. Personal responses predispose you to certain behaviors or practices. Your behavior sets the tone for the behaviors of other people in the organization. This is how your company’s culture is formed. Hence responding effectively to any change be it recession or some other crisis is essential. Lee J. Colan, Ph.D. in his article ‘Here We Go Again Leading in Tough Times’ describes the following three common personal responses of a leader to change, with corresponding alternate and effective responses for each one.

Exemplary leadership
The most striking leadership we have seen in recent times has been the way Barack Obama ran his election campaign despite being faced with many challenges. Business leaders can draw lots of lessons from the way he organized and led his campaign team.

  • Obama created a grassroots movement by building an ever expanding organization of empowered leaders, who in turn engaged people from their social networks like Facebook.

  • The entire organization was aligned around a single goal of electing Obama as President, a reaching for the Stars goal.

  • Everybody operated with common values - "Offer messages of hope, don't denigrate our opponents, refuse to make deals".

  • Campaign leaders subordinated their egos and personal ambitions to the greater goal. Those who deviated quickly exited.

  • Obama set a clear, consistent tone from the top and never wavered, even when things weren't going well.

  • Obama's greater mission transcended internal goals, such as fundraising, endorsements, and campaign events. Each of these areas had goals tied to the greater mission.

  • The campaign team used the most modern Internet tools to communicate, motivate and inspire people and to guide their actions. Each day, 5 million people received personal messages from campaign headquarters or even Obama himself. This organization collaborated across a wide range of geographies and campaign functions, all tightly integrated nationally and executed locally.



There are several ways to lead differently in tough times. The ones I have listed are only a few among them. But what is important for you as a leader is to reflect. Reflect on every aspect of your leadership, on what you normally do and then see what you need to do differently. Some actions may have to be done a little differently and, others quite differently. This approach will see you providing effective leadership for your people, in good times as well as bad.



  • Lehman, J, ‘Leadership in difficult times is different’, Jan 13 2009,
  • Dr. Izzo, J, ‘Leading in Tough Times’, September 2008, %202008%20Dr.%20John%20Izzo.pdf.
  • Colan,L.,J, ‘Here We Go Again Leading in Tough Times’,
  • ‘How to inspire people in tough times - Kotter on Matsushita’,
  • George,B, ‘Obama: A leader for the ‘we’ generation’, Jan. 19, 2009,
  • Slack,K, ‘Leading During a Recession’,