top of page
  • Writer's pictureTerry Dockery


Too picky, you say? Do you think there isn’t enough difference between leadership and management to be worth your time? Is it common for someone to be good at both? For example, would you look for the same characteristics if you were hiring a CEO versus a COO?

In my work building high-performance organizations, I have found the distinction between leaders and managers to be very useful. Just because someone is a great manager, it is not safe to assume that he/she is a great leader; just because someone is a great leader, it is not safe to assume that he/she is a great manager. I’ve seen extremely good leaders who are poor managers; I’ve seen extremely good managers who failed miserably when given more leadership responsibility.

While great leaders and great managers have many characteristics in common, I have found that the two roles require different emphases in order for the person in them to be extremely successful. For example, it is difficult to find someone who possesses both a strong big picture perspective as well as a strong detail orientation. Read on.

Barebones definitions

  • Leadership: creating the vision

  • Management: implementing the vision

Some important characteristics of a great leader

  • More strategic in perspective/focus

  • More creative/non-linear in thinking

  • More inspirational in dealing with others

  • More interest in creating value/“making the organizational pie bigger”

  • More concerned with return on investment than budget constraints

Some important characteristics of a great manager

  • More tactical in perspective/focus

  • More analytical/linear in thinking

  • More directive in dealing with others

  • More interest in creating efficiency/“guarding the organizational pie”

  • More concerned with budget constraints than the return on investment

Which is most valuable, a great leader or a great manager? Well, as usual, it depends. While great leaders typically command more money on the open market (and rightfully so), if your organization is in dire need of a great manager, then that great manager would certainly be more valuable to you in maximizing the overall performance of your team and your organization.

One of the mistakes that I see made most often in senior leadership teams and boards is that the group has too many strong managers and not enough strong leaders. It’s the Peter Principle in action at its worst. Typically someone has a strong track record as a business manager so he/she gets placed in a senior leadership team or on a board but doesn’t possess the right characteristics to be really successful in that role and at that level.

That’s why I prefer calling the senior team in an organization the “senior leadership team” instead of the “senior management team.” This may sound like nit picking at first blush, but language is powerful in creating conceptual maps for action, and I’m extremely confident that the senior team needs to be “leading” the organization instead of “managing” it.

How about you? Is your senior team just efficiently managing your business, or are they leading it to new levels of success and enjoyment?

TECHNIQUES Technique #1: Recognize the difference between great leaders and great managers and hire/position them accordingly.

Technique #2: Recognize that someone can be very successful as a leader or a the manager without being exceptionally strong in both roles.

Technique #3: Recognize your own strengths, weaknesses, and role fit as a leader and as a manager; be sure to play to your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses in your team or organization.

Copyright Terry "Doc" Dockery, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

3 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page