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Act Like a Leader and Think Like a Manager

| June 26, 2012 | 7 Comments

Act like a leader and think like a manager. Really? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? No, because leadership is action, period! And if you don’t remember anything else from this article, remember that people judge you by your “actions,” not your thoughts or “intentions.”

When it comes to leadership and management, many people mistakenly believe they are one and the same. Not knowing the difference and taking specific actions can cause teams to become disengaged, create a hostile work environment, and obtain minimum commitment and performance from people. As a result, people do just enough to meet expectations, not get fired, and become “paycheck employees.”

Here are some of the fundamental differences between managing and leading:

Managers maintain, leaders develop

Managers focus on tasks and compliance, leaders focus on people and empowerment

Managers rely on control, leaders rely on trust

Managers accept the status quo, leaders challenge it

Managers have sight (see things as they are), leaders have vision (see things as what they could be)

How to Act Like a Leader

Ultimately, leadership is people and action trumps everything. Just like you can think your way into a new way of acting, you can also act your way into a new way of thinking.

There are three specific actions that you must continually perform as a leader to bring the best performance out of people.

1. Communicate the vision (speak like leader and always remind your team of the ultimate purpose) in team meetings or one-on-one sessions, and inform the team of what they will ultimately become as a team and an organization.

2. Inspire! As a leader you must be a source of energy and inspiration for your people. They will get burned out, lose sight of the goals and expectations and take their eyes off the vision. You must sense when this happens (lack of participation, absenteeism etc…) and be like jumper cables for your team.

3. Care (empathy is the number one quality leaders must have) about your people. Leaders must know at least the two most important things to their people. Whether its family, going back to school, or obtaining a promotion, you must make time to connect with each person on your team on a personal level. This is the most important action of leaders. It facilitates trust and when people trust you as a leader, they take on more work without more pay and give you their all.

How to Think Like a Manager

If leadership is people, then management is tasks. Although leaders can inspire people to pursue a vision, a management mentality attempts to make certain the vision becomes a reality.

There are three specific thoughts manager must focus on to accomplish the vision.

1. What are we trying to achieve? Once the leader establishes the vision, managers must think about the overall strategy and goals to achieve it. Although the vision does not change, the strategy and goals can change. Goals should be clear, measurable and have deadlines.

2. How are we going to achieve it? While developing the goals, managers must also determine if the team has the resources (people, money, tools etc…) to succeed, or if the team has been set up for failure.

3. How can each team member contribute? Great managers know that it does not matter how bold and wonderful the strategy and goals are, if the team cannot execute and ultimately achieve them. For successful execution, managers must set expectations for each role and assign tasks and duties to hit the daily, weekly or monthly targets. They must also continually ask is everyone on the team in the right role where they are maximizing their strengths (great managers do not focus on weaknesses).

Be a Leader or Manager?

Some people have great leadership qualities. They are inspirational, charismatic, and have majestic ideas, but they are unable to get results and win through other people. Some people have only management tunnel vision, although they get things done, people feel forced to do it, bitter and resentful, and they refuse to give their all.

Be both, be balanced, and start acting and thinking now!

James Bird Guess is a speaker, author and trainer on top performance, leadership and small business growth. He is also the best-selling author of the book, How I Made a Quarter Million Dollar$ From the Trunk of My Car, and founder of JBG International Success Academy, a performance training and research company. He can be reached on

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  • Muthuri Kinyamu

    Great read. Whatever one chooses to be (Leader or Manager) managing talent in an organization determines whether the firm succeeds or fails.  Sadly we have a lot of managers who bet on strategies rather than the people. Maybe in your next article you could address the Gen Y challenge. Am having some rough time inspiring my team!

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  • Christina Krenek

    Great article! I totally
    agree, leadership is an action. And you need to have a balance of both
    qualities to really be a great leader and manage a great team. I especially
    love the point that leaders focus on people and empowerment. Great leaders are
    always looking for ways to help employees grow, develop and reach their full
    potential! I recently read about a great opportunity
    – a chance to win a free comprehensive team analysis for your department, where
    managers can learn about the strengths, weaknesses and how to maximize the
    potential of their team. Sounds perfect for entrepreneurs, new businesses and
    startups! Here’s the link if you want to check it out and learn more:

  • Amber King

    This is a great discussion. Act like a leader and think like a manager, that is true. Business owners should understand that its the employees who run the company, they should be taken care of, that is the role of the leader. Making sure that goals are reached is the role of the manager. Mix both qualities and see how your company will prosper.

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  • aeny

    any manager here who can help me to complete my assignment