You Can’t Lead Without Managing


Understanding the distinction between the two is crucial for high performing teams, in particular as “flat” orgs come into fashion

By John O’Sullivan and Michael VanBruaene

We’ve read innumerable articles, books and commentary on leading and managing, and all of them emphasize the importance of leadership rather than management in an organization. And when we search the internet for “attributes of a good manager” and “attributes of a good leader,” the results are articles, essays and commentary that apply to a lot of the same characteristics in both disciplines.

Many times the first definition listed for “leadership” is “management,” while leadership may not appear at all as an element of management. There is also a partiality towards leadership, even for basic supervisory and management situations, with statements to the effect that leading is more desirable than managing, without offering definitions or descriptions of either discipline.

In the work place both good management and good leadership are essential, and most of the time within the same position. When writers indicate that good leadership is more important than good management, yet fail to provide a definition or description of either discipline, readers can’t determine whether or not they should or shouldn’t be focusing on leading or managing to improve their performance.

We know that managers can be good leaders —but only when they are good at managing. People want to work with them because they create effective and enjoyable work experiences. Employees are willing to follow their “lead” on work activities and projects. Therefore, all managers should see themselves as leaders and realize that good leaders are typically good managers as well.

Leadership deserves special attention because your success depends on it. It’s a critical element of management positions and it results in your success as a manager. But if you don’t give your management responsibilities their proper due by appreciating the discipline and process of management, you run the risk of underperforming in both disciplines.

The exceptional manager focuses on not just what is done but how it is done. As an exceptional manager you provide employees with direction and guidance to help ensure that they have jobs that are challenging and fulfilling, and you work to obtain the resources needed to do their jobs well. You also look for ways to help your staff improve work processes.

As companies continue to minimize the number of formal management positions, and emphasize team and project management, along with self-management, it’s important that you master both management and leadership disciplines. Your success depends on it. You’ll want to respectively focus on managing and/or leading each work day depending on the circumstances that you and your staff experience.

We’ll begin by focusing on what we believe to be the key characteristics of good leadership. With this knowledge you’ll be better prepared to accomplish your position’s responsibilities, regardless of its title and nature. As we noted above, good managers can be good leaders. In installments to come we’ll give more attention to management.


We want to improve your chances of being good at leading, whether you are in a position that has primarily leadership or management responsibilities. Keep in mind that within in any managerial position there are elements of leadership.

Leadership is a Powerful Word. For many of us it evokes an image of dynamic, multi-dimensional and assertive behavior. But while those images may help you identify a good leader when you see one, they are abstract and lack the substance necessary to help you do things to demonstrate your leadership. What does leadership really look like and feel like? If you are clear on this subject then you’ll move comfortably between setting the tone of your organization and focusing on operational issues.

Defining Leadership. We suggest you consider this definition of leadership: Leadership is activity which leads to and nurtures an organizational culture of Trust, Respect, Personal Accountability and Intimacy while defining and supporting an Operating Rationale that supports and sustains this culture. (Your “organization” can be a work unit, division or the entire organization.)

With these elements in place, you have a basis for deciding what you should do each day, week, or month to enhance your success and that of your organization.

Our experience tells us that about eighty percent of a manager’s time (where the position is generally operational in nature) is applied to operational matters and about twenty percent is devoted to leadership. However, as is true with most aspects of work, eighty percent of your success is the result of your leadership.


Leadership is about setting the tone, establishing what your organization is all about and developing and sustaining key organizational attributes. Think about the role of an orchestra conductor.

The Orchestra Conductor. While Gustavo Dudamel, the conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, is an accomplished musician, he typically doesn’t play music in performance. He conducts. During a performance he uses a baton, intrinsic knowledge of the music, and his personal influence to create a work of art. He manages the efforts of each orchestra member and establishes and sustains the culture of the orchestra during the performance, and in rehearsals. This affects how orchestra members interact with each other and with him. These efforts are all about instilling trust, respect, personal accountability and intimacy within the orchestra. And ensuring that each orchestra member does what he wants them to do. He’s both leading and managing.

True Leadership — Developing and Sustaining the Exceptional Organization. Good leaders create and sustain an organizational culture with the attributes of Trust, Respect, Personal Accountability and Intimacy. This is accomplished within an Operating Rationale in which the executive team directly and indirectly, and regularly, informs the organization about why it exists, its key priorities, and its operating principles.

With this in place there is the opportunity to be an exceptional organization. It’s how you have high performing, fully engaged employees at all levels of your organization doing great work each day, and how, we believe, you have your best chance for organizational success.


While we can’t help you describe the “Why” of your organization, we want to suggest that these four values that should be inherent in your organization’s culture. Along with an Operating Rationale, they can go a long way toward sustaining an exceptional organization.

These values support fundamental human needs and motivations for being effective and fully engaged employees. Along with the “why” of your organization, they support employee efforts to work purposefully and creatively each day. To the extent that you exemplify these values in your own actions, employees with whom you work will see you as a leader, regardless of your position’s title. Your actions and your organization’s actions should align with these values.

These values have to be consistently articulated and applied daily. For many managers and leaders this required consistency and emphasis is a big challenge. If you stop, you run a substantial risk that your organization’s culture and viability will break down.

It begins with Trust. If we were starting a company or being asked to improve a company with substantial challenges, we’d begin by working to instill trust among the employees. With a culture that embodies trust, there is a basis for mutual respect which along with trust is a basis for personal accountability. These three attributes then set the stage for intimacy.

Trust. In a trusting culture we know that for all employees, including executives, what they say is what they mean. What they intend for us to understand, know and act on is what’s in their mind. We know that “they mean what they say”; we can count on it. Trustworthy people don’t play games with us, saying one thing but really meaning something else, or saying they agree with us on something when they really don’t. Such behaviors undermine effective action and organizational health.

Managers must be vigilant to protect trust from eroding. Of course, a major blow-up can significantly impair trust, but it’s more likely to be eroded by a series of smaller slights over time. Trust can also be eroded or completely destroyed by the lack of an effective system to provide feedback to employees and for employees to provide feedback to management. Where is the trust in an organization that lacks a viable system for feedback?

Respect. Leaders and managers must consistently behave with respect toward everyone. No exceptions! Coworkers, customers, competitors, and regulators deserve respect. To the extent that you show respect consistently and across the board you will also receive the respect of others.

You enhance respect by being patient, resilient, and understanding with work problems. For example, if there is a work problem, you should talk with co-workers from the perspective of understanding and resolving the problem at hand; not by finding personal fault and then addressing the problem. Something didn’t work out the way you expected, and you want to figure out with them what to do better next time, what to learn from the experience. But you have to discuss it with them! And that discussion has to be honest, open and thorough.

Discussing an issue with coworkers shows the respect you have for them. You see them as fellow humans and as co-workers who have lives; and sometimes those lives affect their performance. You don’t know what’s going on with any individual employee at any given time. Employees have personal lives and sometimes those lives get complicated. It can, and sometimes does, happen with you also.

What is not respect. Respect does not mean deference or acquiescence, or walking on eggshells so as not to offend someone; or sympathizing to the point that you compromise your organization’s mission. It means sincerity, that you’ll take a rigorous and objective look at the issue at-hand. It’s about finding the real nature of the problem and figuring out how to prevent it from occurring again.

It also demonstrates what we believe to be an important difference between sympathy and empathy. When we demonstrate empathy we show that we understand another person’s position or circumstances to the point that we can put ourselves in their position and understand how we would feel if we were in the same spot. To us, sympathy just means we feel bad for them and that’s seldom productive. Empathy also shows the leader’s presence and vulnerability, important attributes in the leader of an exceptional organization.

Personal Accountability. With personal accountability, all employees — especially executives, those in managerial and leadership positions, and board members — are answerable for their responsibilities, work tasks, behaviors and activities. Everyone keeps their commitments, or if they cannot achieve an assigned task or responsibility, they expeditiously inform the required individual(s) of their status and why this is occurring. Ideally, they will have an appropriate alternative in mind.

With personal accountability you have ownership. If you recognize something is material to achieving results, you take the initiative to bring it to the attention of the right people. It includes follow through and getting done what you said you’d get done or renegotiating the assignment.

It’s also about good, open, pro-active communication to keep team members informed on the status of your commitments because you know that the results of your work have a direct impact on their ability to make good on their own commitments. You don’t want to let them down. When you consistently demonstrate personal accountability, trust and respect are nurtured.

Intimacy. With organizational intimacy, employees form close and familiar working relationships with one another. Those relationships are built on close association and understanding of one another. These relationships include a philosophy of “today for you, tomorrow for me.” I’m willing to forgo my interests for a time to help you, knowing that someone, not necessarily you, will do the same for me. We don’t keep score; we make sure we all succeed.

With intimacy we invest in open and authentic relationships with fellow employees. They see who we truly are and we see their inner selves also. Everyone accepts and respects the vulnerability; the courage to be your authentic self, that comes with this approach. With work place intimacy there can be honest communication and very effective work relationships that lead to exceptional organizational functioning and high quality products and services.

Truly effective leaders, with their fully committed employees, exhibit the vulnerability that comes with intimacy. They find that exhibiting vulnerability due to intimacy is an act of strength, and it aligns with trust and respect, which can result in highly engaged employees.

Another aspect of intimacy is that there is a process for resolving disputes so they are not allowed to linger. Intimacy requires that differences get worked out so that bad feelings are not harbored or buried where they can fester, and damage work relationships. Everyone won’t get along perfectly all the time; we need to address our differences with trust, respect, and openness.

Differences should be nurtured because they can spawn the creativity we need to be an exceptional organization. We’re amazed at the many organizations that have a work culture where disputes are ignored and grudges are harbored, resulting in less than optimum performing employees.

Good leadership requires that intimacy is sustained daily within the organization; it’s a key element of organization culture.


Your Operating Rationale, established by leadership (one person or a very small number of people), is the glue that holds your organization together. All employees are directly and indirectly informed on an ongoing basis about why the organization exists, its key values and priorities and its standards of behavior and ground rules.

This Rationale has to be simply and clearly articulated. Your employees, whether you are a manager or leader, have to know why the organization (or their operating unit) exists beyond the specific service or product, or making money. Yes money is important but it’s a supporting element of why your organization exists. An effective Rationale should be a message that is easily and simply communicated, and integrated into decision-making throughout the organization. It underlies everything all employees do.

The Rationale must be authentic and heartfelt; and ring true to you and your employees. It should inherently make sense. It’s not something that is developed by a consultant.

The Rationale will include your mission and your formal policies. The Rationale must reflect the culture and values of your organization and is best introduced to employees upon their hire. It may include desirable behaviors and describe behavior that is not acceptable. It might also include a basic operating constitution that provides guidance on how employees are to interact with each other and customers, and how key decisions should be made. It could also state the key responsibilities of leadership.

The Rationale is the why and how you exist as an organization (or operating unit). It encompasses the culture and values of your organization, your mission and key policies. It may include desirable behaviors and describe behavior that’s not acceptable. It might also include a basic operating constitution that provides guidance on how employees are to interact with each other and customers, and how key decisions should be made. It could also state the key responsibilities of leadership.

In most instances the Rationale stays the same over time. However, certain aspects of it may be emphasized at certain times and there may be unique instances in which its modification is required.


To be successful as a manager or leader you should know their respective attributes. Most leadership and management positions contain a mix of leadership and management. Much of leadership is about establishing and sustaining organization culture — a culture having Trust, Respect, Accountability and Intimacy and which is encapsulated by an Operating Rationale. These attributes lead you towards leading an exceptional organization. Your organization can be an operating unit, division or the entire company. Jobs that have managerial responsibilities also have a leadership element. Good managers have employees in their organizational unit who want to follow them.

In future installments we’ll look at behaviors that can enhance your success as both a manager and a leader.

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