Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Are You Leading… or Just Managing?

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Guest post by Adrienne Erin

Something interesting happens in a lot of organizations. A good worker gets promoted to manager, and maybe goes through a little management training. After a solid performance, that manager will be promoted to a leadership position, under the assumption that their management skills will make them good leaders. They won’t.

Too many organizations operate on the idea that great managers make great leaders, and vice versa. But if you look at what’s required to fulfill each position, the skill sets don’t line up very well; in fact, some skills needed for one function may actually be counterproductive in the other. So are you a leader or a manager? Answer these questions to find out.

Do you look ahead or live in the here and now?

Managing a company means you’re making sure tasks are being completed and your team is running smoothly, while leading it means looking ahead what you want to do next. If you’re more interested in the future than the present, you might be a leader.

While managers can find ways to operate more effectively, their main focus is keeping everything on track, working their project management magic, and dotting every ‘I’ and crossing every ‘T’. Leaders, on the other hand, have a big-picture view of their organization; they keep one eye on where the business is now, and the other eye on where they want it to go.

Do you inspire or inspect?

Both leaders and managers are in charge of one or more groups of people, but they interact with them very differently. If you know how to motivate your teams to perform at their best, you’re probably a leader, but if you sometimes have to coax them to do it, you might be a manager.

The most successful leaders know how to inspire people to follow them towards their goals. Moguls like Steve Jobs and Donald Trump are recent examples, as are non-business figures like George Patton and Abraham Lincoln. If you want to lead your teams, put away your checklists and evaluations and lead them with passion and inspiration instead.

Do you lead out front or from behind?

Even if a leader isn’t a natural extrovert or particularly sociable, he or she learns how to fake it to bring people on board with his or her vision. Being a good manager involves some dynamic speaking, but more often it’s about keeping your eyes on your calendar, people and the bottom line.

You don’t have to be loud and obnoxious to be a good leader — you just have to be bold and confident in presenting your ideas. Unlike managers, who can keep their businesses afloat from their offices, leaders have to be in the public eye selling their ideas to customers, investors, and other stakeholders.

Managers don’t always make the best leaders, nor are the best leaders necessarily good managers. Understanding the difference between the two, and figuring out whether you fall into one camp or another, is key to defining your leadership style and driving great results.

Adrienne Erin is a writer and career development professional who worked in a college career office for four years before striking out on her own as a freelance writer.


The Product Management Perspective: Reading this article may cause you to wonder whether the title “product manager” really fits. Ultimately you are the “product leader” more than the manager. The statement “the most successful leaders know how to inspire people to follow them towards their goals” hits on one of the most important aspects of successful product management: the need to inspire and motivate the team to produce winning products. Keep that top-of-mind as you move forward.

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5 thoughts on “Are You Leading… or Just Managing?

  1. I’m new to your blog, and the blog-o-sphere in general so you may have covered this previously. Do you believe that manager or leader is hardwired in us or can either be developed? Is there such a thing as a natural leader or do all leaders have to decide to be a leader develop the leadership “muscle”?

    • Hey there – thanks for your comment!

      To answer your question… I think that we are naturally inclined to be a manager, a leader, or neither as the case may be. However, I think that with the right decisions and by developing the right skills, regardless of natural inclination, you can “develop the leadership muscle” as you so aptly put it! Mike has a lot of great articles on his site about leadership and developing your leadership ability – you should definitely keep reading the blog! :)

  2. Pingback: Follow the Leader | Robert Goodman

  3. Pingback: Are You Leading… or Just Managing? | Lead on Purpose | A Dangerous Thing

  4. Pingback: Leader or Manager? | mountain2surf

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