Sitting in the BOP conference room last week a team member of one of our business owners asked a very direct and simple question, “what is the difference between a leader and a manager?”

My initial reaction was to rub my hands together and lick my chops because I thought, “softball!”

Then I hesitated…”what is the difference?”

So I did what any world-class coach would do, I asked the question right back to this astute team member, “what do you think the difference is?”

Her response was quick. 

“A leader leads the way, trailblazes, generates ideas, takes risks, and breaks dumb rules.”

“A manager focused on task repetition, corralling people, hitting deadlines, implementing the leaders ideas, and following rules.”

Admittedly in our culture managers get a bad rap.  Think about characters like Michael Scott, Leslie Knope, and Ron Swanson.  It leads us to think about their positions and roles forcing unnecessary bureaucracy in hopes of being seen and getting that next promotion.

It is a culture bemoaning the next report in fear that it becomes an ineffective and worthless “TPS report” of Office Space fame.

Truthfully we could bemoan leaders as well.  Leaders get us into wars and stoke the pompous fires of political big talk.

Leaders and managers are assumed in our modern mind to be tiered systems, one being better than the other in the same way we assume the chef being better than the restaurant busser.  If the busser has a passion for service, clean up, tidiness, constant and repetitive motion, then maybe being a chef is “beneath” their skillset. 

Managing is a unique skillset.  Leading is a unique skillset, and both require continual growth, learning, focus, and passion.

Team members for a small business need to be cultivated with both.  There is not a leader I know who does not need to manage something.  There is not a manager that I know who does not need to spend time leading the process or people.  

Maybe we need to begin reframing the question and instead ask, “how do we build a healthy mix of leadership and management within our team?”

If we were to build a healthy curriculum of management and leadership into team members, here are four things it must include.

First, accountability is a powerful tool that benefits everyone and creates a culture of progress!  Where there is no predictable accountability there cannot be healthy progress.  Something will always be progressing, either disease or health.  Predictable accountability will determine which will flourish. 

Michael Beaumont recently said, “The VALUE of your vision/mission is found in your INVESTMENT in accountability.”

Of course you must begin with vision then accountability becomes the concrete to hold that vision in place.

Second, a healthy curriculum of management and leadership will include a spotlight on soft skills.  Donald Trump can say, “We must dominate our enemy”, but if Billy Graham were to say the exact same thing we would hear it a different way.  Those are soft skills. 

Looking up a definition of soft skills yielded this, “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.

Rarely is it the technical detail of what we say that elicits emotion, more often it is how we say it and the context we say it in.

Third, a healthy curriculum includes a relentlessness on capturing and training process.  Whether you are a business that bills $150,000 annually or $15,000,000 annually, process will build margin for you and your team so you can make time for what matters most…the relationship.

Finally, a healthy curriculum will include training on how to project and forecast; to see out into the future and then translate that into reality today, and tomorrow, and the “next tomorrow” (a Nigerian phrase).  To take that future vision and turn it into steps, dollars, tasks, and…


So is there a difference between a leader and a manager?  Maybe it is two sides of the same pizza.  Both sides are tasty and valuable to the entire experience.

Can you tell it is time for dinner? 

Scott Beebe is the founder of Business On Purpose, author of Let Your Business Burn: Stop Putting Out Fires, Discover Purpose, And Build A Business That Matters.  Scott also hosts The Business On Purpose Podcast and can be found at