Why Being a Manager And Being a Leader Aren’t the Same Thing

Why Being a Manager And Being a Leader Aren’t the Same Thing

If you’ve been in the workforce any significant amount of time, you’ve likely worked under a “bad” or ineffectual manager. Unfortunately, inept leadership is a reality of the workaday world. One can find unsatisfactory management in just about any field or business sector he/she cares to look. History is replete with them.

But what separates the “bad” managers from the “good” ones? This question has long-captivated the business world. For many companies, knowing how to distinguish strong managerial candidates from those less-well-suited to leadership could be the difference between bankruptcy and profitability. It’s an important question to consider and study. It’s even more important for modern business to find meaningful answers to this question and to integrate those answers into processes for hiring and appointing managers.

Leadership “Laws”

Several years ago, I read an insightful book about leadership by John C. Maxwell. That book, entitled, “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” remains quite relevant for any company striving to find and appoint/hire effective management.

Maxwell paints a convincing picture of leadership as a complex set of traits that draws and influences other people to follow. He argues that, although the ability to lead is somewhat innate, people can improve their leadership skills and mold themselves into effective leaders through learning and practice. He deems this principle, “The Law of the Lid.” The Law of the Lid is the idea that a person’s success level is dictated not only by his/her natural capacity to lead, but also by his/her determination and capacity to improve as a leader.

Below are several points about effective leadership from Maxwell’s book that, during my own career as an entrepreneur, I’ve found to be extremely prescient.

Strong Leaders Are Not Appointed

Almost everyone reading this has probably worked under “managers” who considered themselves effective leaders by virtue of having the word “manager” or “supervisor” attached to their job titles. These are people who believe having such a title means that their guidance or directives will be automatically and gladly followed by those beneath them. In other words, being a “manager” or a “supervisor” automatically makes them “leaders.”

Effective leadership, however, is far more complicated. In fact, Maxwell’s idea of effective leadership is, in many respects, quite the opposite of this mentality. Effective leaders, Maxwell argues, understand that good leadership is a process involving time and the ability to win the trust and respect of those being led.

Strong leaders, in other words, understand that being a “manager” or a “supervisor,” doesn’t entitle them to the trust and respect of others. Neither does title imbue them with the ability to influence others. Effective leaders understand that the “process” of leadership involves earning both the respect and trust required to gain and increase influence.

Charting a Course

Good leaders also tend to be effective planners in Maxwell’s view of leadership. They understand the importance of priorities and that being busy isn’t the same working toward a goal. And they approach their leadership role as a responsibility to serve a greater good. Good leaders, Maxwell argues, add value to their organizations and to those they lead by serving others.

Strong leaders have a clear vision. They set goals and chart a course for how to attain them, putting people and processes into place that can help overcome any obstacles along the way. In the process of achieving the goals they set for their teams and organizations, effective leaders make improving the lives of others a priority.

Empowering Others

Another crucial aspect of effective leaders is their ability to understand and overcome their own weaknesses through savvy personnel decisions. Good leaders, according to Maxwell, surround themselves with people who are strong and skilled in areas where the leaders themselves are weak.

This idea was more thoroughly crystallized in a quote by legendary businessman Lee Iacocca, who once said, “I hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way.”

Good leaders are sufficiently secure in themselves to give power to others. They’re also sufficiently realistic and intuitive to know when they need to delegate and to whom they should delegate. And they know when to back off and let subordinates take charge, and when the timing is right for them to step back in and lead.

Human Connection

According to Maxwell, good leaders are also able to connect with others on a personal and emotional level. Effective leaders, Maxwell says, attempt to win and touch hearts before they expect others to follow them. Such connections are often established through sacrifice and through “leading by example.” When followers see that their leader is willing to make personal sacrifices for the good of the organization and the team, they’re far more likely to “buy in” to their leader’s abilities and vision.

Never Say Die

Good leaders, according to Maxwell, don’t believe in giving up. They find a way for their teams to win. Period. Through belief in their vision and leadership, strong leaders set a definite course for their teams and build the necessary momentum to finish strong.

Such leaders understand, however, that they could do grave damage to themselves and to their teams and organizations by giving up. Good leaders do not quit—not until a job is done and success is attained. And if they find a particular goal simply can’t be reached, they might shift focus, setting a new goal and keeping the team running and the momentum moving toward the same end point.

The End Result

Strong leadership provides many rewards at the personal, team and organizational levels. Strong leaders, for example, tend to attract other leaders or others inclined to become leaders. This, according to Maxwell, is “The Law of Magnetism.” This Law of Magnetism, Maxwell further posits, allows a leader to build a strong, diverse inner circle of other thinkers and leaders (The Law of the Inner Circle), further enhancing the company and the team.


Based on my own experience as an entrepreneur, I think I would add a “22nd” Law to Maxwell’s 21: “The Law of the Ego.” At the end of the day, being a good leader means setting aside one’s ego. A leader who comes to his position with humility, and with a focus on the good of others, setting aside his/her need for glory and validation, can more effectively put Maxwell’s other 21 laws into practice.