Why Good Managers Are Horrible Leaders

Good managers often fail as leaders.

You’ve probably had him as a boss. The metric driven manager who is focused on goals, but has unclear expectations. Everyone understands where he’s headed, but no one else seems motivated to get there. Or you’ve had her—the manager who’s exceptional at cutting costs, but is completely disconnected from the ground level of the company.

You’ve worked with great managers who did not excel as leaders. So what’s missing? Why aren’t strong managers automatically great leaders? The answer is simple:

Leadership and management are not the same thing. 

Managers are supposed to focus on metrics—the bottom line. They hit goals, stay within budget, and cut expenses wherever possible. They keep a close eye on time cards and maintain levels of operational efficiency. A manager’s success is based on reaching established goals. 

Leaders—on the other hand—inspire people to achieve the vision. While metrics and efficiency are important, leaders focus on getting people to buy-in to the vision and show the team how individual contributions fit into the big picture. Leaders inspire employees to do their best work by helping them see the value of success. 

If you ask me—managing is easier than leading. Planning, leading, controlling, and organizing are complex tasks, but still simpler than leading. Management focuses on operations—making sure the job gets done and the organization does what it’s supposed to.

Leading is more challenging, but the most rewarding. Connecting with people, understanding what motivates them, inspiring them to help move the organization from Point A to Point B—these are all critical components of leadership. Although the work is valuable, connecting with people is even more important.

I’ve worked with a lot of managers and leaders over the years. Most have been decent managers, but horrible leaders. I can count on one hand the number of strong leaders I’ve worked with, and even fewer have been strong in both managing and leading. These are people that I have learned from and who have challenged me in developing my own leadership skills. I consider myself both a strong leader and a strong manager, but I’m more passionate about leadership.