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Leading vs. Managing: What Every Leader Should Know

Leading a team is not the same as managing tasks and processes; it requires inspiring and guiding your team to achieve the organization's vision. A leader must let go of control, trust their team, and support them in their development to succeed.

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
2 min read
Image of a person jumping from being a manager to becoming a leader.
Take the leap from being a manager to be a leader. Your career depends on it. 

In today's fast-paced business environment, leaders are often mistaken for managers. While both roles require the ability to motivate and coordinate teams, there's a significant difference between the two. Simply put, managers focus on tasks and processes that get things done, while leaders prioritize inspiring and guiding their teams to achieve the organization's vision.

Managing Teams

Managing is often associated with micromanaging, providing detailed instructions, and ensuring every little task is executed as planned. A manager's primary goal is to ensure everything is done efficiently and within deadlines. While this is an important goal, managing doesn't leverage the capabilities of the team members. Instead, managers get robot-like performance, where team members just do what they're told without offering their own insights or ideas.

Leading Teams

Leaders, on the other hand, must inspire and motivate their teams to push past boundaries. They must create an environment of trust and shared values that encourage open communication and collaboration between team members. This allows them to tap into the creative potential of each individual, which can lead to innovative solutions and new ideas. Leaders are also responsible for setting clear objectives and providing guidance by helping the team stay focused on vision.

Struggle Is Part of the Journey

Leading is difficult. The key skills for a leader is learning to delegate. It's about identifying and assigning the right responsibilities to the right people while allowing them to make decisions. Delegating allows leaders to focus on their highest priorities and lets their team members grow and develop new skills. When delegating, it's important to set expectations and goals clearly and provide the necessary resources and support.

Delegating by itself is not sufficient. It's important for a leader to let go of control and let the team struggle. It's human nature to want to help, but jumping in and doing everything for them will not build trust or respect. Instead, it can create a culture of resentment and dependency. Leaders should give their team room to learn from their mistakes and develop a sense of ownership and accountability.

Building trust is the foundation of strong leadership, and it's critical for effective organizations. Trusting your team means you're confident in their abilities, decisions, and judgment. When you allow your team to work autonomously, you send a clear message that you believe in them. It also fosters a sense of community and a shared sense of identity.

Leading By Walking Around

Leaders should be visible and engaging with their teams. Walking around the office, chatting with team members, and being available for feedback and suggestions can make a massive difference in building a positive culture of trust. Leaders should also be receptive to constructive feedback and make changes as needed to improve their leadership style.


Every team needs a leader, not someone who micro-manages their work but someone who inspires and motivates them to strive for greatness. By understanding the difference between leading and managing, new leaders can create a culture of trust, collaboration, and accountability. It's essential to keep in mind that every individual on the team has a unique set of skills and talents that can contribute to the organization's success. Leaders should nurture and leverage those strengths to achieve the organization's goals. Letting go of control, trusting your team, delegating decisions, and being visible are the hallmarks of an exceptional leader.

Most consider themselves leaders when they are managers who don't truly let go. Take the leap from being a manager to being a leader. Your career depends on it


Phil McKinney Twitter

Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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