Book Me For A Speech

My Writing and Ranting

Press Room

Good Books

« Leadership During the Worst of Times: Michael McCain at Maple Leaf | Main | Michael Maccoby on Managing vs. Leading »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Thank you it is great to such great original content, I really enjoyed reading your info and will be back to view further posts. Leadership is crucial to the success of both personal and business development


In my experience the term leader has a positive connotation and manager has a negative one. The reasons for these perceptions are legion, usually due to people's personal experiences and eventually lore.

One position I held reinforced that, and held up leaders as the people that were needed to make the company successful. Problem was, they were just words not backed up with real substance and action.

For me, manager is a word that automatically makes me cringe. It shouldn't. People need to manage, whether it is themselves or others. People also will need to lead in varying degrees as well. So I agree with what Bob and others have said.

It's complex, and these definitions are perhaps best illustrated by example.


Great article Bob! I agree with everything you say because I have had experiences with leaders that have visions that are not agreeable with business objectives, yet really don't understand why they can't be carried out or why it wouldn't work as well as they planned.

I have been researching about leaders and managers too and I have always felt that there really is no distinction. A great leader motivates, engages, collaborates and brainstorms with all angles. A great manager does the same and is not afraid to contribute to the leaders thoughts as well as protect their workers from things they know won't work.

ritu venkatesh rangachari

Hello Bob, we wrote recently on great brands and great leaders..and concluded that they are fundamentally the same and do 3 key things to ensure loyal followers (consumers):
Engage- Educate- Entertain.
The "Engage" for a leader comes from his understanding of the future and defining how his company/ team should relate to the future. This is a gap analysis that brand managers cover through market research..but for leaders it happens by exposing him(her)self to the environment and to the capabilities of his company.

The "educate" happens as leaders define HOW their company will change itself for a better future. This requires the leader being operationally sound. we believe no leader can escape getting into the trenches REGULARLY.

Lay-offs are common when the leader has either poorly defined the future or underestimated the resources at his disposal to get to that future.

Market leading brands "educate" by bringing in new technologies and innovations.

And "entertain" is the aspect of leadership where he shares his story of the futre and how to get there. He can do this in different ways. And the best way is the way that works for his company.(or market)

thank you
ritu venkatesh rangachari

Bruce Lynn

While I love the Bennis quote about 'doing the right things...', beyond that I disagree with Bennis' categorisation of 'Management' as a somehow inferior form of Leadership.

I like the notion of a 'Leader/Manager' distinction because it creates a model requiring balance which I think is fundamental in business life. Specifically, my blog (3 years of blogging on the particular topic) puts forward the notion that the disnction revolved around how executives approach risk. 'Leaders optimise upside and Managers minimise downside.' Both are critical to an effective organisation.

Michael Maccoby

Bob- Your point about successful business visionaries having deep knowledge about their products fits my experience. However, I think we should differentiate leadership which always involves a relationship as contrasted with management which has to do with processes and systems. Yes, leaders should understand management. However, management doesn't always need a manager. I have worked with factories where management is done by teams. Furthermore, you find different kinds of leaders in knowledge organizations today-- strategic, operational, networking--and they have different styles and qualities. We should no longer be thinking about the leader, but rather an effective interactive leadership system that includes strategy, implementation and facilitation. This can't be achieved by management alone at a time of constant change when people need inspiration, a sense of purpose and enthusiasm to achieve their goals.

Wally Bock

Marvelous post, Bob. The management/leadership dichotomy creates problems in four ways.

First, it distinguishes leaders from managers when a more accurate distinction is between leadership work and management work. Every person responsible for group performance must do both. You don't get to lead and not manage or manage but not lead.

Second making leaders superior to managers, as in, "We need more leaders and fewer managers" gets us into the trait business. We describe the ten or eleven or twelve or three dozen traits of great leaders. Those descriptions are manifestly unhelpful because they include traits like "honesty" as if it were an inborn characteristic instead of the emergent characteristic of a success of situations and acts.

Third, the dichotomy leaves out supervision which everyone with responsibility for group performance needs to do along with leadership work and management work.

Fourth, the leadership/management dichotomy leads us to discuss the distinction endlessly rather than defining what behavior and performance we expect from the men and women who are responsible for teams in our organizations.

Martin Schray


Great post and really spot on. This also potentially explains why strategy to execution breaks down in so many cases.


Frederic Lucas-Conwell

Bennis distinction was useful at a time a new style of leadership was needed in USA. This distinction is not useful anymore. There exist sa true difference in what the word ‘management’ means in the reading from Bennis, and let’s say Drucker. The Bennis‘ manager style still works quite well to lead in many situations. And a good mix of styles often helps.
But it seems your post takes the discussion into finding a silver bullet for leadership. Doesn’t the situation matter? What about being properly educated to reading people’s emotions/behaviors, have a positive attitudes to people who are different from who we are? MBA programs don’t teach that, do they? How is it that so many exec. coaches are today needed to help managers or leaders do their job?

Andrew Meyer


I deeply respect your writing so please take my question with a grain of salt. When you talk about looking at distinctions between great leaders and great managers and what makes them effective, are you looking at what they do or are you looking at whether their companies performed well? (or more specifically are performing well now?)

My concern comes from when you say "the people who seem to make them come true usually seem to have deep understanding of the little details required to make them work..."

It seems to me that there's a survivorship and success bias at play. Especially with the examples you gave. You're looking people/companies that are successful now. Right now, Apple has the Midas touch and Steve Jobs is on your list. If you were doing this in the '90s, when Jobs was at struggling NeXT, would he have made the list? Would the list then not have included John Chambers from Cisco?

My point is not to question Jobs or Chambers' leaderships skills or deep understanding of the details or their companies management abilities, but rather the choice of examples and timeframes.

My friends who know military history tell me Napoleon showed his most brilliant abilities as a General while losing at Waterloo. Roger Federer showed his tactical brilliance, grit and creativity in his loss to Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon.

My point is only that the most brilliant leadership and management often takes place in the face of insurmountable odds.

I love your writings and really hope you publish something along these lines. I just hope you don't fall into the easy trap of only talking about leaders with deep knowledge and grand visions only looking at companies deemed successful. Success is a measure of relative performance at a particular time. Please include some examples of great leadership, deep knowledge and wonderful management in firms that are not necessarily wildly successful at that present time.

Stefan Stern

Well said Bob, I am completely with you on this. I regret that "management" seems to have become "the m word" for so many people, when clearly what we are talking about are the hundreds of (admittedly) micro-level decisions and actions that ultimately affect billions of people's lives. How many leaders declare that there is nothing wrong with their marvelous vision, it was just the execution - carried out by minions - that has let them down. But these leaders, as you put it, don't really understand what it takes to do things right.
Henry Mintzberg talks about "management by deeming" - those leaders who simply announce things and presume that they will happen - our Tony Blair was like that, whatever the US media may have told you about him!
Thanks for the commentary. We have started a management blog (note the name!) on

and hope other readers will take a look.


A good post. I agree with most things said. Of course it's not enough to have a vision for your business, you need deep understanding as well. This is what sets successful leaders apart from not so successful ones. Or as Steve Jobs said in his latest interview: "I have learned to manage the top line – the strategies, the people, the products – and the bottom line will follow." When you get a glimpse into his thinking, it's quite revealing how focused he is on details and at the same time can make really smart conclusions about a business and its strategy.

When it comes to Anne Mulcahy's successful turning of Xerox, I think a lot has to do with the kind of person she is, how she listened to people in her own organisation. But she had a vision too, which helped her and the people around her to focus on what was important.


Thanks for this post. It's great. I was familiar with Bennis's ideas but something never quite felt whole them. There can't be just someone on high guiding strategy without understanding. You stated the balance very nicely.

Kevin Rutkowski

Based on the earlier post, a leader may just be anyone with followers. Most managers have followers by default. If we use the previous definition of a leader, I think that this post gets more into the leadership style. Is the leader a visionary or detail oriented? As you pointed out, the best leaders have some of both styles.

I have worked with people in leadership positions who set arbitrary project deadlines without understanding anything about the details behind the project. In one case, when a qualified and experienced project manager brought up legitimate concerns, she was told to stop being negative. She wasn't the type to be bullied into silence, so the "leader" replaced her. Of course, the project encountered most of the problems that the PM identified. These problems could have been mitigated if the "leader" had listened to his highly qualified and competent staff.

I think it's also important to distinguish between leaders who have followers solely due to their position and leaders who have followers at least partly due to their leadership skills.

Sandy Piderit

Bob, I agree that "the best leaders do something that might be most properly called a mix of leadership and management". I also believe that teaching about the distinction between leadership and management can sometimes have negative effects on students, because they sometimes use the distinction as a way to back away from the leadership aspects of their primarily managerial jobs.

Leadership is not something we can count on others to do -- sometimes we have to step out to the front of the line and lead, even when we are not in charge.


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Asshole Survival

Scaling Up

Good Boss Bad Boss

No Asshole Rule

Hard Facts

Weird Ideas

Knowing -Doing Gap

The No Asshole Rule:Articles and Stories