In life, we’re often inspired by leaders, and kept on track by managers. But if you’re running a business, then you’ll need to be a bit of both.
In this episode
In this episode of Essential Business Radio, first broadcast a number of years ago but still relevant, we talk to experts Al Tredinnick, now Business Development Manager, 15below, Phil Green, Director, MD Hub and Prism Group and Joseph Clayton, founder of My Great Company about the difference between a leader and a manager.
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About today’s guests
Julie Stanford: Leader versus manager. In life, we’re often inspired by leaders and kept on track by managers but if you’re running a business then you’ll need to be a bit of both. I’m Julie Stanford and a while ago I presented a radio show for RadioReverb in Brighton. What my guests talked about then is still completely relevant today. In this show, my guests are Al Tredinnick, Joseph Clayton, and Phil Green, and we talk about the difference between a leader and a manager. Welcome to the three of you.
I must say I’m in impressive company today I think. I will be suitably careful with what I say. Now why we’re here, we’re here to talk about ‘Is there a difference between a leader and a manager?’ Given that you had that idea, Al, what are your thoughts about it? I want to take a poll around the room, ‘What are you thinking about it?’ and then maybe our ideas might be changed towards the end.
Al Tredinnick: The reason I brought it up is I work with a lot of small companies. I think a lot of them think that their staff, their business, whatever is there to be managed and that’s it’s almost like a process that they need to do. I don’t think people realised the benefits of being a leader rather than just the manager. I do think there is a fundamental difference. I think when you manage people they pretty much do it because you’re the boss and they need to get paid and all that kind of thing, whereas leadership is where people follow you and actually want to get what you’ve got and therefore, rather than you having to tell them to do everything, they’ll watch to see what you do and replicate your behavior in order to get the same success you’ve got. It’s far more fulfilling to do as an owner of a business if you can be a leader, and it’s loads easier getting your business to work properly. That’s why I brought the subject up, because I don’t think a lot of people realised the difference between managing and leading, basically.
Julie Stanford: I couldn’t agree more. I think, having run businesses for over twenty years, for so many of that I was trying to be a manager, whereas I think possibly I am more of a leader, although I’m not even sure I’m that. So I was really trying to force myself into that management role and failing frequently. Then I had, last year, a fantastic manager working for me. When I watched her work, I realized, when you see it done brilliantly, how fantastic it is. She wasn’t necessarily inspiring the staff, she was being very clear about the way they needed to move forward. It struck me as I watched her work that there is a fundamental difference between the two ways of workings. Joseph, clearly, that is your area of specialism really.
Joseph Clayton: Yeah.
The difference between a leader and a manager
Julie Stanford: What do you think? Do you think there is a difference between a leader and a manager?
Joseph Clayton: I’m glad you told your little story first because there clearly is a difference so the straightforward answer is yes, however I think what I come across is the concept of leadership sounds very sexy, it sounds very, “Oh, I want to be a leader.” Essentially, without making judgments, you clearly need both within a business. Sometimes when I work with people they want leadership training and the problem is, if you don’t have good managers, if you don’t understand what that difference is …
And I know we’re going to explore that throughout today’s conversation. For me a leader, it’s somebody that clearly is more visionary, that is able to engage people around them. I think what will be an interesting debate with the people around the table here is that leadership, the reason it’s a challenge is because it evolves so you can look at somebody like Trafalgar and say, that whole situation with Nelson and what happened there, what a great leader, but the characteristics required back then are different. Do you lead from the front? Do you pull people? Or do you push people? There’s interesting debates around what good leaders are now.
What it definitely isn’t is just about being charismatic, I suppose, that’s how people see leadership a lot. Managers, you need good managers. You need people that understand and can drive process, that can make things glue together properly or else what you have is very charismatic, driven, “Doesn’t the future look great?” and can people keep up with you? I think leadership is a bigger question. It is different. You need good leaders. How you balance both, I think is also part of that debate.
Julie Stanford: Phil, what would you think, given the consensus so far, I’m assuming you’re going to say, yes, there is.
Phil Green: What if I say no?
Julie Stanford: Yes, go on, be contentious, Phil.
Phil Green: If I was to say no, it’s only because I think a really good manager can be a very good leader as well. I think occasionally really good leaders are not good managers, equally it can be true that good leader is a good manager as well. I think the exceptions, the ones we think of … Quite often on the courses that I run, the first question is exactly what you’ve asked, “What’s the difference?” Normally there’s a row of blank faces, if you fancy me, so then I say, “Well, give me some ideas of who are good leaders. Tell me, who do you recommend are in the top five of the people …” I get the same answers course in, course out. Who are the top five leaders that I hear about?
Julie Stanford: Al, who would you think?
Al Tredinnick: Good leaders. I don’t know. Famous ones, obviously people like Churchill, that kind of thing.
Phil Green: Yep, he’s up there.
Al Tredinnick: I’m sure everyone says that.
Julie Stanford: Yeah. Joseph, would you have a …
Joseph Clayton: I would say, again, there tends to be lots of good military leaders so there’s a host of them to choose from. Pick, pick, pick anyone, really.
Julie Stanford: I would have thought one very good leader was Alexander the Great.
Joseph Clayton: Okay. Interesting.
Julie Stanford: Actually. He seemed to have an amazing ability to inspire people to go impale themselves on spears.
Phil Green: And he was only thirteen. The top five that come out generally are Branson, in a business sense, Gandhi, Churchill, Hitler quite often, and it rolls on like that. Quite often it’s dictators that get in that list just as easily as good business people or war heroes.
Julie Stanford: So leadership is not necessarily a good thing, it is that charisma that we seem to think is part of leadership qualities, can lead people down the bad path as easily as a good one.
Phil Green: I think it’s the essence of leadership that allows people to be led in that way.
Julie Stanford: Yeah.
Phil Green: Whether it’s a good path or a bad path, you absolutely believe in your leader so you follow them wherever they go.
Julie Stanford: When you’re asking that sea of blank faces in front of you, when you do your courses, that first question, what would you then say about the manager that makes them different from the leader or are you saying that usually it’s the same person? I suppose I’m a bit confused there.
Phil Green: What we generally then do is look at what the attributes of each are. If you look at the attributes of a leader, then charisma often is there, great communication skills, personality presence, those are the kind of words that tend to come up to do with leaders. With managers you get words like organised, structured, process driven, things like that. For me, essentially the difference is that leaders get people to do stuff without them almost realising they’re being asked to do it, whereas a manager will ask them to do it and they’ll do it, that’s broadly the difference, not a great description, but …
Being a good leader
Julie Stanford: It’s interesting that in my own business, it’s very embarrassing to admit this, but I’m going to admit it, that leadership thing was I would get everyone all excited and they’d all go, “Okay, where are we going to go? What are we going to do? What are we going to do?” and I’d just get bored and say, “Yeah, okay, I’ll leave you to it then” and I’d be going off doing something else, which must be incredibly frustrating. I know I’m putting a side ball in about entrepreneurial thinking and the way entrepreneurs are, but I tend to think that entrepreneurs, they share those qualities of the leader. What would you think, Phil?
Phil Green: I think that’s the Richard Branson approach, and that’s probably very unfair on Richard Branson, but you can just imagine him waking up one morning, saying, “I’m going to have an airline today,” and then he’d phone somebody up and say, “I want an airline,” and that’s it. He would do the whipping up, get them enthused, but somebody else would do it. That may be completely wrong, but that’s the sort of feedback we get on courses, that’s how people imagine him operating.
Julie Stanford: Yeah, so that’s the perception of him.
Phil Green: It’s that perception of, again, the charisma and he comes up with, really, a stupid idea, and look at it, look what’s happened.
Julie Stanford: Yeah, it turns into a brilliant one.
Phil Green: We all have stupid ideas and we go back to sleep.
Julie Stanford: Yeah, they remain stupid.
Phil Green: … or we go out and do whatever we do, but yeah, they remain stupid. You need good people around you. I think every good leader needs good people around to invent stuff.
Julie Stanford: Al, you were nodding when we were talking about that thing of a leader being, possibly those leadership qualities going across to entrepreneurial people as well, what would you be thinking about that?
Al Tredinnick: I do, but I also think within small companies I don’t think that people, I know certainly with a lot of my clients, they don’t have a choice but to be both in certain respects. To be that leader and then pass the responsibility on to making it happen to a manager isn’t a luxury that a lot of small companies have, they have to kind of be both. I think to a certain extent you have to almost get good at managing processes, but leading people, rather than the other way around, if you see what I mean.
People do have to be both. Particularly with small businesses people get tied up in trying to tie down the process of where it gets done, sales get made, whatever, and they forget that actually, when they walk into the office in the morning with a big frown on their face or when something goes wrong and they panic, that actually they need to be a leader at that moment and show people how to deal with it otherwise the rest of the company just follows suit unfortunately.
Julie Stanford: I also think, in a small business, I think the leadership element comes in there when you’re out there selling the business, you’re selling what you do to people, you’re inspiring your customers as well as your team, but the management comes in with the delivery of your product or service to your customers in the right way for the right price on time, on budget, isn’t it? That’s the …
Phil Green: Absolutely.
Being a good manager
Julie Stanford: … two things, really. Joseph, lots of experience of the different types of people, but thinking about smaller businesses, what are your thoughts about the differences and what needs to happen for smaller business owner, manager or an MD of a small company?
Joseph Clayton: Yeah, I think along with the characteristics, you have to understand the risks. If you are this dynamic, very visionary individual, you can lose people. I’ve seen that, that the person themselves, if they could somehow tag their DNA into everybody else around them, Lord knows what they’d be capable of. When you get to Richard Branson stage, you have immense contact with all of the resources you need so you can be that decisive and almost confidently arrogant, in terms of jumping there. You can’t do that in a small business so I think, picking up what you’re saying, you’ve got to make things basic and simple, manage process.
To make anything successful you need certain things in place, don’t you? You have to have the right environment, that office, that space where people are working in, that has to be functional. It has to be appropriate and you have to have the right processes. You can have very driven people, but the forms they fill out, the way you ask them to work actually isn’t the best one, no matter how motivated they are. Your processes have to be good. Then people have to the skills, we’re all involved with training people, that’s fine, that’s a great process, but do people have the ability to do it well?
All of those things, environment may be a little bit more interesting and cool, but the other things are quite bland, really, but you have to get those in place. I think for a small business person to be unapologetic about their excitement and entrepreneurial-ism and their drive, great, nail that down, and then park it, get those boring things in place, but then never lose sight that you have the ability to grab someone’s belief because as a leader I think there is where that difference. A manager can align people to the task they need to do. A good leader grabs belief and we’re inspired by this with every movie we see.
Phil Green: Joe, don’t you think you get frustration with, especially these younger companies and very entrepreneurial MDs, that they’ve got these ideas, fantastic, they’re moving things forward, and they get caught up with the clutter behind them, the stuff that’s necessary, then you get the element of frustration building up with these leadership people and they hate being dragged back down into the detail again.
Joseph Clayton: Yeah.
Phil Green: So they’re constantly fighting that battle.
Joseph Clayton: No, you’re absolutely right. One, it’s about helping people understand there’s no such thing as right and wrong in business. I don’t think that’s particularly controversial, but it’s been my view for a long time. Hoping things become simple, once you start growing, complexity is your biggest challenge. Competition, whatever, you can understand competition, but complexity, you didn’t see it coming, as your saying, and then suddenly, instead of that idea of dragging somebody down it’s almost like the old saying I can’t see the wood for the trees.
It’s breaking things down to simple context. There is two hundred things that you need to get done, but if these next three things aren’t done, who cares? It’s almost identifying with them. I mean, how stressful! It’s exciting, but it’s extremely stressful. You’re running your own business yourself now, Al. As exciting as it is, complexity is going to start sneaking right in there and so bringing that back down to, I like the rule of three, I’m that way, “What are the three things that you can get sorted?” Then starting thinking how you do grow and trust … Sorry, I am talking a bit too long here.
Julie Stanford: No, it’s okay. It’s fascinating.
Joseph Clayton: I think trust is that next thing that’s very important for a leader. If you’re in the military, you’re given people that have gone through specific academic qualifications to be trusted at your next levels down. If you’re starting a small business and you need your right or left hand women or man to get things done, “How do I identify the characteristics I need from them? I don’t want them exactly like me. I’m already me,” then “How do I trust them and walk away and say, ‘That’s yours’?” That’s scary.
Julie Stanford: It’s very hard.
Joseph Clayton: That’s very scary.
Julie Stanford: I think for business owners it’s terrifying because you build this baby, really, and you put so much time and care and money and effort into it. You get your first clients and it all feels so precarious. It feels as if, if you just looked away, the client would run away.
Joseph Clayton: Right.
Julie Stanford: You have to delight them because they could go anywhere. It is a very nerve-racking experience, I think. You build this, you bring in your first staff, then you have to delegate, you have to let them do it. What you were saying about having those processes in place, I found in my … We talked about this a few shows ago when we talked about organisation and getting yourself really sorted with your processes and procedures. The thing we realised there was, in my business when I got those very robust processes in place, it freed me up.
It freed me up to know that, because I’d documented the process of a particular thing we did, my staff were supported in the delivery so they didn’t have to remember everything and I wasn’t relying on them to be mini-mes. They didn’t have to be. It was all down in the manual. Actually it freed me up to go out and talk to the customers and freed them up to add their bit of flare to the process.
Learning management and leadership
With your training, Phil, thinking about that, how do you … We’re all different. All of these business owners are going to be completely different types of people, but they are going to have to have those leadership qualities or skill … Well, they’re not skills are they? … possibly qualities and management skills. I don’t know. You’ll know better than I do. How do you help them acquire both or acquire the balancing?
Phil Green: I think they are skills and I think they can be acquired as well. There’s some debate whether you can teach leadership or not.
Julie Stanford: I was going to say, can you teach charisma? Can you teach me, Phil, if you can.
Phil Green: No, that’s impossible.
Julie Stanford: Oh, that was a bit mean. I thought that was the most underhand comment made on the show so far. Can you put that in the book, Louise, please.
Phil Green: I think the answer is whether you can teach charisma, I don’t know. You can teach leadership because I think the first step with leadership is understanding yourself, understanding most importantly your impact on people around you. How do you come across to people, Julie? What effect do you have a on people?
Julie Stanford: That’s a whole separate show, Phil.
Phil Green: But knowing you, as a I do, not a great deal, but you have quite an impact on people, you’re quite a large personality. You’d have to understand that impact on people because it could shrivel some people. That tends to be what we do when we look at training courses, the first couple of hours of a day would be really looking at how you impact other people, getting some honest feedback, going within the group, trying a few scenarios out so that people can see how they impact.
Julie Stanford: So if that person, the person that you’re training, the small business owner that we’re talking about, has to be very ready to hear some truths, really.
Phil Green: And keep on hearing them and ask for them and and ask for that feedback because otherwise how do you know? Of course everyone is different, so again an old model, now, situational leadership, which I’m sure you know, Joe, but looking at the way you behave in different situations with different people is crucial. If I treat you one way and treat Joe exactly the same way and Al exactly the same way, I won’t get the same reaction from you all. You have to be self aware enough to know your impact on them and also be aware of how to deal with it.
Julie Stanford: It’s fascinating stuff, isn’t it? Al, when you’re working with the people you’re working with, do you sometimes find that they’re not ready? All of the things that Phil is saying, that the business owner has to be open, has to be aware of the effect of their personality. My personality, as you say, is a larger personality and at times I know I have that effect on people. I’ve seen them whither and I feel terrible about it, but I don’t know what to do about it. Al, I’m assuming that you can help people like me, disabled, large personalities like me, to do something about that.
Al Tredinnick: Actually I think probably one of the easiest ways I’ve found for people to understand the effect they have on people … Somebody told me a great adage years ago, which was if somebody is watching you do something, you’re wasting your time because only you know how to do it. You should always, really, have someone, whether they’re conscious of it or not, piggybacking along with what you’re doing to see how you do it so that they can learn how to do it as well.
I think the more that owner-managers do that, the more they realise the effect they have on people, as long as you set it up that way and say to them, “Look, I want you to take someone with you on a sales meeting. I want them to sit next to you in a board meeting just to keep passing on your way of thinking.” After a while that reflects back at them, the way they are. Unfortunately most people, if you have a very dominant personality and it does make people wither, you tend to only notice that when you see it happening.
Julie Stanford: And they’re crying, you mean.
Al Tredinnick: Yeah. It’s unfortunate, but it’s very hard to explain to someone that that is going to happen because, unfortunately if you’re a very confident person, you don’t think, “Oh no, that’s …” you think, “It’s fine. I don’t dominate people. It’s all right,” until you see someone snap and you go, “Actually maybe I do.” It’s the very nature of people, they won’t take your word for it until they see it happen. It’s unfortunate. You can put it back together again afterwards. I think it’s trying, lots of owner-managers try and do a lot of their thinking behind closed doors. If they’re having a bad day, they’ll go off and kick a wall in private. If they’re having a good day, they’ll phone up a friend and tell them. It’s about getting that interaction with the people you work with and that’s how you get the feedback to understand how you affect them.
Julie Stanford: This is actually going back to the MD Hub Model, that’s what I’ve heard from MDs who are a part of that group, is what they love about it, is it’s the one place where they can openly talk about their triumphs and also their mistakes and the things they’re worried about. As a business owner with your staff, it’s often difficult to say, “I’m really petrified because I’m scared we’re going to lose this contract and then you’d all be out of a job or whatever.” Al, yeah.
Al Tredinnick: I do think, to a certain extent I think … We were talking earlier on about trust. I think if you always try and come across as this super slick manager that never gets anything wrong, you just alienate people because none is like that. Your employees aren’t sitting there thinking, “God, I’m perfect. I never screw up,” they’re petrified of getting it wrong. I think to a certain extent you need to be transparent. It’s like I said earlier, you need to not be afraid to have a bad day, but you have to deal with it and therefore you show your staff how to deal with a bad day too.
If you always go off in private and kick a wall or scream into your coat or something, you’re not showing them how to deal with it and it doesn’t help them trust you because it makes you look less human if you’re always trying to put on this face. It’s much better to be honest with people and do it together if you are scared, say, “Look, I am scared, but this is how we’re going to counteract that. This is what we’re going to do. We’ll get a plan in place,” that’s what makes people confident then.
Julie Stanford: Joseph, what are you thinking as you’re hearing this. I can see your mind going.
Joseph Clayton: I think for one, I don’t think I’m necessarily disagreeing with you, but I think people are very self-reflective. I won’t say everybody is like this, but I don’t particularly like people giving me advice on things where I already know, “No, it’s true I didn’t do what I should have done. I just didn’t really need you to tell me.” So I think as a leader a lot of people do have those moments when they actually do understand, “The way I’m impacting other people is not working,” because they’re going to be bright by a certain definition here anyway, and so I think one is to accept that’s okay. It’s okay.
You are not as powerful and effective on everybody as you think you are. Everybody knows that we’re all different and we need to adjust our style. Then you start to have to look at things of a greater importance. You have to be pragmatic sometimes. I’m quite a romantic person, but sometimes you just have to be practical. By changing my approach with these people, will it make a bigger impact? Interestingly enough, sometimes no. I don’t want to sound terrible, but sometimes actually the effort or whatever required to do that won’t make the impact I need. Other times, yes it will and so you just start making choices with that.
You know there’s an audience within your team or your clients or your customers whatever the situation may be, where you know my style is overpowering and you think, “Okay, this next time I’m with them, we’re going to sit, we’re going to be quiet, and I’m going to ask questions. I will have no solutions. I have no answers,” even though my mind is going, “But you could do this,” you go, “It doesn’t matter because I know by asking questions these four people in front of me that have failed to do what I’ve asked them to do will come up with exactly what I want them to do and they’ll walk away and do it,” and you make this nice, practical decision with it.
Yeah, being a leader can be difficult because you naturally think everybody will notice and be inspired and run with it and your success has been based on the fact that worked. Your belief and your behaviors back that up so these little inconveniences that you find, you make a practical choice. Sometimes it is a good practical choice it is a good practical choice to just shut up, ask questions, and again that, “Do I pull people along or do I push them?” You make a decision, “Today I’m not going to pull you. I will not inspire and drag you into this bright new future. I’m going to let you show me the way,” then suddenly you find these wonderful things that you feel better about as well.
Tips about leading and managing
Julie Stanford: It’s a fascinating thing to think about, actually, and talk about. Infuriatingly we’re at the end of this time together, really, almost, but what I always like to do, although it’s difficult with this subject, really, but is to get a tip. Clearly that’s not quite as easy to do this time, but if I could just have a last thought from the three of you about anyone listening, as an owner, they don’t have a manager that they can hand off to, what should they be thinking about and what can they do about their style with their team? A different style is going to be needed with the team as is needed out with the clients or whatever. Phil, if you don’t mind, I’m going to put you on the spot here, but a final thought from you for this subject this week.
Phil Green: I think it comes back to that impact, so ask, find out what your impact is on your staff, how you effect different individuals differently and see how they’d like to be managed so as a leader you don’t have to spend time doing it
Julie Stanford: Excellent and succinct, that’s impressive. Al, what would be your thoughts.
Al Tredinnick: I’d say a similar thing, actually. Find out what motivates the people you work with. It’s not always money. Sometimes it’s success, sometimes it’s being recognized for the work they do. Don’t assume you know what motivates people. Actually sit down and ask them. Take them for a coffee or a pint or something outside of work and find out why they’re doing it. It will make it a lot easier to lead them.
Julie Stanford: There’s one of the things you say, Al, always when you’re on the show, is this, and it just seems so obvious. You’ll say, “Just ask them,” and you think, “Yeah, why didn’t I think of that? That’s really straight forward and simple, but true.” It’s true, isn’t it? I suppose the true things always are simple. Joseph, a final thought from you on the difference between a leader and a manager and how a person listening who is running their own business, what they can take away from what we talked about today, do you think?
Joseph Clayton: Don’t try to be a super hero. Engaging people is about them seeing value in you and about them believing you see value in them. The balance between those two isn’t that difficult to work out.
Julie Stanford: That’s it. All of you, the three … I gave you a few more minutes thinking you’d all just wax lyrical and you gave me succinct and simple answers. This show was originally recorded for Business As Usual on Radio Reverb. I’m Julie Stanford. Thank you for listening to Essential Business Radio.