How to Be a Better Leader

Don’t be such a good manager that you don’t have time to lead.

When you step into a leadership role for the first time, you will soon find that you actually have two roles: leader and manager. Leadership is all about the vision – driving toward company goals, steering a team to success and inspiring others to contribute their best efforts. Management, on the other hand, is all about the details – process, protocol, timesheets, performance reviews, conflict resolution… and the list goes on.


There are precious few people who are born with both sets of skills, especially on the leadership side.
I see a lot of managers who excel at getting their hands dirty with the details – engineering processes and troubleshooting day-to-day problems with ease – but have no clue how to actually lead a team. The result is a whole bunch of micro-managing without much forward progress. Why is this scenario so common? Why do so many people get promoted into leadership roles without the proper leadership skills? Because, time and time again, companies mistake solid workmanship for leadership qualities. They don’t realize that leadership skills must be learned and practiced.

Lead first, manage second
In my Reality-Based Leadership philosophy, I am adamant that leaders must lead first and manage second. However, that doesn’t mean that management is not important – far from it! As a leader, you are responsible for the proper functioning and productivity of your team. Meeting team goals and contributing to the organization’s overall vision is mandatory. Not optional, not “nice to have,” but mandatory. That’s why it is so important to work with cross-functional teams to design clear, standardized processes and hold your employees accountable for adhering to them. Processes are the building blocks that make your successes repeatable and sustainable. If you regularly depend on heroics or specialized individuals to reach your goals, your approach will burn itself out, and fast. Over the long term, that’s bad news for your team and the company. So yes. All those management details are absolutely critical.

Beware the over-management quicksand

Many leaders go wrong by turning management into over-management. They get so caught up in these details that they lose sight of the big picture. By doing so, they undermine the very processes they created! Instead of insisting on compliance with standard processes, they reason and bargain with their employees. They make exceptions and concessions for basic expectations – easy stuff like tracking vacation time, turning in expense reports and adhering to a dress code. Woe to the leaders who choose this path. When there are exceptions to every rule, leaders will spend all their time managing the exceptions rather than driving toward goals.

Over-management is a time suck for everyone, pulling resources away from their responsibilities and draining morale. Leaders start to neglect the crucial leadership tasks of inspiring employees, instilling loyalty and building personal accountability. Starved of leadership, employees begin to drag their feet, jealously guard their territory and look for ways to game the system. Which creates even more over-management tasks for leaders. It’s a downward spiral, and it can be incredibly difficult to pull yourself (and your team) back up. Don’t feed this vicious cycle!

Want to learn more about leading first and managing second? Pick up a copy of Reality-Based Leadership.