Myths: Manager vs Leader

For a while I would see regular posts, infographic style images, and other comments talking about how Leaders were better than Managers. Sometimes they would use different language (Boss vs. Leader), but in all cases there was this opposition created where you’d have a supportive, encouraging person on one side (the “leader”), and on the other side you’d have someone who was less involved, who was more directive and disciplinarian (the “boss” or “manager”).


You remember this picture right?

I probably spent too much time reading those articles, because it was clear from the start that there was a false dichotomy being set up. Disgruntled employees would like and share posts to validate their feeling of being poorly treated. Newly minted managers (who are rarely given much support or guidance in many organisations) would read the articles and panic that they were not “hands on” enough, and often wind up being just another contributor without providing the direction and feedback that they were employed to bring.

The truth is that we need both leaders and managers in our businesses, and vilifying one role does no benefit to anyone. In a well structured business, there are several roles that should be filled (sometimes by one person, but the role is always distinct).

The Visionary

A good business will usually start with a visionary who provides direction – someone who sees what could be and is able to inspire others to put in the work to make it happen. This role is extremely entrepreneurial, and requires a lot of creative freedom. There needs to be space given for researching market and industry trends, time discussing the problems and felt needs of existing customers, and looking for new and exciting ways to partner with others outside the core area of business.

The Operator

Unfortunately the visionary isn’t always the best at getting things done. This is where the operator comes in. A good business always has a senior position filled by someone who gets the businesses products and services. They are passionate about understanding how things work, why they work, and how they can become even more efficient. Although this role is often “in the trenches” with the team, they also need to challenge the team to perform at a higher standard. The best operators are smart and lazy – they are always looking for things that can be done with less work and less time, using tools, technology and automation, as well as cutting out things that are wasted effort.

The Promise Keeper

The Visionary seems to always want to be trying new things, and the Operator seems to be wanting to do things in new ways – but the Promise Keeper just wants to make sure the customers get what they expect. A well organized business will always have someone in a senior role who is there to protect the reputation and the brand of the company. Someone who makes sure that the public image of the business is positive, and that customers are getting what they’re paying for. They’re often the ones who are out there selling, making promises to people that they fervently hope the business will uphold. This role often gets a bad rap from inside the business, because they are usually the ones holding back change, challenging new methods and generally trying to keep things the way they were. What exacerbates this is that this role is usually filled by the least technical member, who spends the least time “in the trenches” actually delivering the products or services.

Good Business

A good business will include each of these three roles, and will validate the work done in each area. So next time you read one of those articles suggesting that bosses and managers are the source of all evil in your company, try to take a step back and think about how necessary those roles are, and what the motivation is for the people who need to fill them.

How do you see this in your own business? Do you have all three of these roles filled? Did I miss another critical role? Let me know in the comments below.


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