The best leaders need great managers

In the past few months, I have read a number of  articles describing the differences between managers and leaders.  I see the leader role glamorized, leaving those skilled in management with less credit than they deserve. 

My mission

To challenge, encourage, and equip individuals and groups to discover and employ their unique gifts, talents, abilities, and experiences in realizing noble causes that improve the lives of people.

My view is that our world desperately needs more effective leaders that place people first in accomplishing the work.   Furthermore, I also believe that the best managers and leaders complement each other in fulfilling the mission.  

Without effective managers, leaders accomplish little.

The importance of the exemplary manager

To build sustainable teams, organizations, and products we need the best of breed in both roles.  We need more effective managers.  My experience has shown me that rarely do we find people who are both a superior leader and manager.   Assuming this assertion is true, our organizations must be purposeful in filling our ranks with the right combination of both to be successful.  Agree?

Leader over Manager?

I’m wondering if the increased emphasis on leadership in the workplace is going to create problems for the organizations of the future.   Think about this.  Do we have “management” programs or do we have “leadership” programs?   Which program has more prestige?  Hmmm.

Why is this a problem?

First, I think we need more managers than leaders.  Trying to make everyone a leader (the one that sets direction) creates strife and chaos.  People feel safest when they know where they are supposed to be which is why we cannot have more than one person communicating the way to go.  Doing so creates confusion and fear.  Secondly, placing the value of the leader role above the manager role can tempt our best managers to take on a role that doesn’t suit them. 

Q.  Can anyone lead? 

A. Yes.  I believe every person can grow their leadership capacity and lead effectively.

Q. Can everyone become a great leader? 

A.  I might get into trouble here, but I doubt it.  I’m not seeing it today.   I think that is ‘ok’.  Not everyone is built for it.  While leading more effectively is something I have committed my life to and encourage others to do as well, we all have a limit.  How well we are able to increase our leadership is in relation to the gifting one has in them already and how much work they are willing to put in to maximize it.  Let’s remember, that there is only one CEO for each company, only one president of a country, and only one chairperson of a non-profit.  What I am suggesting is that we should continue to improve, but understand that we should operate within our giftings.

Q.  So what do we do?

A.  I think instead of striving to be the leader, we should lead wherever we are to the best of our ability, encourage our peers to operate in the areas they are strongest, respect what we each bring to the team, then move forward together.  I think that is how we build strong families, organizations, and nations that endure. 

What if the problem is left to run its course?

I think we are seeing it right now.  We hear it all the time from our peers regardless of organization or industry.  Organizations that encourage the most talented managers to play the leader role create disengaged teams.  I’m not sure if we have spent enough time thinking about that. 

Organizations value leadership today and they should.  What I am suggesting is what Gallup teaches; people do their best work when they develop their strengths.  What if an effective manager has many strengths, but leading isn’t one of them? 

When we make people play a leader role when that is not their gifting we see the people suffer.  I’m hoping that when we have an opportunity to invite a person into leadership that we can begin inviting those most talented in this area. 

When managers play the leader role

We have all experienced this and we need to address it by elevating the role of manager, not by making managers leaders.   Today, people I meet are not looking to be managed, they want a person to lead them.  A person of integrity, vision, and one that values diversity of thought.   A person that embodies a compelling vision.  One with deep purpose where each employee can contribute their part using their unique talents, skills and abilities to make the dream come alive.

When leaders play the manager role

Similarly, organizations that force the most talented leaders to focus on managing find themselves with underutilized leaders that will look for greener pastures where their leadership can be amplified and have more impact. 

The best teams and managers are what make the best leaders successful.  While everyone in our organization can lead more effectively with training and practice, the people most gifted in leadership will find it comes more naturally. 

We would do well to honor the giftings that each bring and not force one to become the other.  Couldn’t organizations find a way to respect the differences and reward each for what they bring similar to what we do for individual contributors and supervisors today?

How they work together

Employing shepherd leadership principles can help both become successful.  Here is how I have seen the best managers and leaders complement each other.    Let me know what you think.

Leaders set the vision, managers implement it

Once the leader has clearly articulated the vision, the team validates it and buys in.  Then the real work begins.  Getting things done is not always the strength of the leader.  The individual playing the leader role needs the right manager to make the team’s shared vision into reality.

Leaders influence change, managers define how best to put it in place

The leader earns permission to lead the team and motivates them to move in a particular direction.  It is in partnership with the manager that details on how to effectively travel towards the objective is realized.  Together, they make changes as they go.  Without exemplary managers the leaders would arrive at the destination with a broken team.  We have seen this before.

Managers provide valuable insight

Leaders need to hear the truth, weigh various perspectives, look at data objectively.  All of this information provided by a superior management team inform the leader, enabling them to make the best decisions. 

It is the manager that helps them to see clearly, how things connect, and illuminate both the risks and opportunities.  Without superior managers, even the best leaders can find themselves making poor decisions.

The best managers give sacrificially

When there is work to do, they make it happen.  They sacrifice themselves for their teams and the leader.  When they commit, they deliver.  When they over-commit, they deliver too.  They don’t expect more of their teams than they are willing to give and they are likely in the trenches with their teams when called upon. 

When following the best leaders, this will be the culture.   And the leadership modeled by the leader will be emulated at every level.  This is shepherd leadership in action.

Success depends on the manager

Mostly it is the leader who gets the spotlight and the accolades.  However, it is the team and managers that have made the difference between success and failure.  The leader casts the vision, inspires follower-ship, and the team assembled makes it happen.  The manager’s job is never finished.  Most don’t get the luxury of moving to the next thing.  Some wouldn’t want to because they see the opportunity to make things better where they are at.  In fact, many thrive on making what was built even better. 


We need to respect the real differences between leader and manager so we can build the most effective teams that our organizations need to build strong organizations and serve our our clients.


  1. Are you gifted more in the area of management or leadership?
  2. What can you do today to further develop your gifting?
  3. How does recognizing your natural gifting change how you approach your work?

Shepherding:  The art of becoming the leader others want to follow