Are You a Leader or a Manager? - Travis Robertson

Are You a Leader or a Manager?

You have a choice to make.

Leadership is difficult. Managing is easy.

Leaders control the vision. Managers control the people.

Leaders empower others. Managers seek power from others.

Leaders lift others up. Managers want to be lifted up.

Leaders need change. Managers need consistency.

Leaders need a revolution. Managers need to stop it.

Leaders encourage new ideas. Managers are frightened by them.

Leaders embrace diversity. Managers embrace conformity.

Leaders care about the results. Managers care about the process.

Leaders are empowered through inspiration. Managers are empowered through fear.

Leaders respect others. Managers expect others to respect them.

Leaders are respected for their ideas. Managers for their titles.

Leaders see opportunities. Managers see threats.

Leaders fear the status quo. Managers fear change.

Leaders promote variation in thought. Managers promote uniformity of thought.

Leaders receive constructive criticism. Managers give criticism.

Leaders surround themselves with smarter people. Managers try to be the smarter person.

Leaders seek out extraordinary people. Managers seek out ordinary people.

Leaders take risks. Managers hate risks.

Leaders admit mistakes. Managers make excuses.

Leaders are willing to let you fail. Managers will keep you from trying.

Leaders learn from failures. Managers hope you do.

Leaders point the finger at others in success. Managers point it at themselves.

Leaders point the finger at themselves in failure. Managers point it at others.

People want leaders. They don’t want managers.

Both are followed. Only one is loved.

You don’t manage a team. You lead one.

You don’t manage a family. You lead one.

You don’t manage a church. You lead one.

You don’t manage a company. You lead one.

You don’t manage a movement. You lead one.

Which path will you choose?

Photo credit: dominik99

Leave a Reply 22 comments

Anonymous Reply

Great post! Good thing to keep and read occasionally to check yourself.

    Travis Robertson Reply

    Thanks, Adam! We definitely need to keep checking ourselves. It’s the only way to improve as people and as leaders in all areas of our lives.

Kenny Silva Reply

Management is a dead technology. It was created way back when for getting people to comply and conform. Managers follow a procedure, an outline, a prescribed methodology. That’s all hunky dory, but in that context, the world was slow. Business, economy, and culture changed yearly. Today, it changes hourly.

In this new world, we’re constantly being called upon to create; to find new ways to make things happen. There is no manual for that. In a world without manuals, the manager is screwed. Time to step up and lead, or step down and follow.

    Travis Robertson Reply

    You’re right, Kenny. It is completely outdated for the current economy we live in. Unfortunately, it won’t be going away anytime soon.

    I love what you said about how our world is calling us to create and to innovate and “make things happen.” This is exactly why leadership is so necessary. It’s impossible to manage creativity and innovation. 🙂


    Travis Robertson Reply

    You’re right, Kenny. It is completely outdated for the current economy we live in. Unfortunately, it won’t be going away anytime soon.

    I love what you said about how our world is calling us to create and to innovate and “make things happen.” This is exactly why leadership is so necessary. It’s impossible to manage creativity and innovation. 🙂


Anonymous Reply

All that said, this is a great reminder. It’s easy to get caught up in simply managing. Leading is hard, but that’s when the magic happens.

Looking forward to seeing you at BarCamp!

    Travis Robertson Reply

    Thanks, Laura! It really is sad when good people who could be great leaders end up getting caught in the management mentality. Management is definitely broken – you and Kenny are spot on about that.

    I also loved what you said about leadership being more rewarding – I wish I had added that into my list. 🙂

    Looking forward to seeing you and BarCamp on Saturday as well! It’s going to be a great time. Kenny is speaking there as well so you’ll get to meet each other if you haven’t yet. 🙂


      Anonymous Reply

      Thanks for the kind note. I haven’t met Kenny yet either. I’ll make it a point to say hi to both of you on Saturday. Looking forward to it!

kaarib Reply

This really just lays it right out there. Great clarity, thank you!

    Travis Robertson Reply

    Thank you, Kaarib! I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

Anonymous Reply

While I do believe that conventional management in its primitive “command and control” sense is “broken” or has evolved, I definitely disagree with the notion of the extinction of great management. I believe most of this post refers to the downside of poor management as opposed to the upside of great management; which is indeed a phenomenal art-form in an ability to create systems for control based on pre-determined required outcomes. To achieve these outcomes a manager’s greatest skill-set in an organizational sense refers to their ability to identify and select talent. Great managers see varying abilities and have a very uncanny ability to identify an individual’s best natural gifts or talents. From there they place individuals in roles designed to specifically achieve desired outcomes. This is what separates poor management from great management; simply allowing an individual to blossom based on their natural talents.

Now leadership contrastingly differs as it relates directly to the inspiration and guiding light necessary to the achievement of a vision or goal, however without efficient management systems, a leader will never be efficient/economic. What has occurred is simple, the world has evolved from the industrial age to the information age and today great management must emphasize less on rigid command and control systems, but on the empowerment of employees via the increased access to information needed to aid daily decision making. The power is in the crowds for that is where the most aggregated knowledge rests and managers need to adapt and design their present systems to suit, however this is an art-form not a frivolous extinct useless practice that this post so unjustifiably denotes.

Many people can get blinded by the sparkle and celebrity of a leader and misunderstand what leadership is and represents. The truth is that there is a distinct difference between leadership and management and one is not more important or valuable without the other. A leader paints a vision of the future and inspires people to action. A manager designs the best resources individuals, systemic and financial required to the achievement of the leaders vision. Both fail without the other.

    Travis Robertson Reply


    First, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. This blog is about encouraging dialogue and it’s great to see a dissenting opinion.

    The “position” of “manager” will never go away – nor am I advocating that it does. What this post lays out is the difference in mindsets between leaders and managers. You said it yourself when you said that “great management” is “an ability to create systems for control based on pre-determined required outcomes.”

    And this is where we part ways. I believe that creating systems for control used to be what great management was. However, our work is no longer linear in fashion and easily systematized like factory assembly lines. Over 80% of our economy is service-based businesses that run on the delivery of relationships and ideas. And while our economy has evolved, our assumptions about how to manage have not.

    Most companies make the faulty assumption that you can systematize customer interactions or relationships. In fact, in his wildly successful book, “The E-Myth Revisited,” Michael E. Gerber dedicates an entire section instructing business owners not to select people based on being exceptional at what they do, but on being simply capable of following systematized instructions about how to do their job. He calls it “The Rule of Ordinary People” and you’ll find it on pages 100-102 of the book.

    He argues that “the model [your business] will be operated by people with the lowest possible level of skill.” He says that if your model depends on highly skilled employees, it will be too expensive and force you to worry about how to motivate your employees.

    Gerber’s book is one of my all-time favorite books on entrepreneurship (it’s listed on my Book Shelf page at the top of this site). However, I believe he’s dead wrong on this topic. Employee satisfaction is at an all-time low – 45%. So, my question then is, “Where are the great managers?”

    I think what needs to happen is that our managers need to become great leaders – not creators of systems for control. A great manager will carry the mindset of a great leader while being spectacular organizers. They’ll understand that results are what should be valued – not procedures.

    Unfortunately, as of right now, the assumption is still made that people are incapable of self-direction. Yet, somehow, we manage to function quite well in the other 2/3 of our lives when we’re not at work without the aid of a manger looking over our shoulders.

    I never accused management of being a “frivolous extinct useless practice.” I (and the other commenters) accused it of being “broken” – two very different things.

    Again, I thank you for your well-thought through and written comment. I will actually use it as catalyst for a post next week. 🙂

    2 other great books: Drive by Daniel Pink and Linchpin by Seth Godin.


      Anonymous Reply

      “A great manager will carry the mindset of a great leader while being spectacular organizers. They’ll understand that results are what should be valued – not procedures.” This is exactly what I am referring to, great managers already do this – they are spectacular organizers ( or “managers”), however most of your post refers to the downsides of poor management and not of the art-form of management as a whole. Management is not easy, nor do managers fear change, what you are referring to time and time again is “poor” management. If systems for control were extinct or not necessary then go throw out all of your electronic instruction manuals. Just because a system exists, doesn’t mean that it cannot grow and evolve over time as the situation demands. This is great management. What Gerber was referring to was the control systems needed in an industrial age, however his principles still resonate while admittedly requiring the need for growth.

      The future of management does rest in the merging of the two roles, leadership and management however without management anarchy rises. The upside of no control is that it does drive creativity and innovation, however this innovation or creativity can come at a cost – a cost that at times is too great to not manage or control. E.g the recent sub-prime mortgage debacle that lead to a financial downturn. This, funny enough came as a result of a lack of proper management and regulatory systems that drive accountability. What management does is hedge against the downsides associated with the elimination of control, because I am sure you would agree a financial disaster is too great a negative risk!

        Anonymous Reply

        In essence, leadership and management are two very different practices and both have great value. While not all good managers are good leaders, the converse is true, where there are numerous leaders who have a vision and an ability to inspire, but do not have the ability to create a blue print or road map for success or achievement. Poor managers provide these road-maps as mandatory , great managers understand that they are references that aid in the provision of a starting point or a guide. I do agree that more managers need to understand and become leaders, but the great ones do. Leaders have a responsibility to manage and become great managers as well. In order to fully inspire people to their vision leaders must understand their people. This assessment and understanding is a critical facet of management and you actually will never become a great leader without understanding your people. I too thank you for your discussion.

      NicolasMaloney Reply

      Anonymous is correct. I do agree that there exists immense pitfalls in the present practice of organization management. The world has significantly progressed since the days of command and control management. However the fault is not due to a mindset responsible to management as a philosophy, as the need for management and managers is still as great as ever. It is you Travis who states the deplorable state of the average individual with their unguided depletion of time 4-5 hours a day. As well as their overuse of financial resources accumulated to approx $8000 per aggregated American family. I would state that we don’t actually make it through 2/3 of our time outside of work and some management needs to be introduced to curb these growing issues.

      Now for some reason you seem to have positioned your belief of management as a negative control system used by ancient dictators or modern absolutists, but this is far from the truth. Management is a philosophy, an approach or strategy for accomplishing pre-determined objectives through the planned execution of systems and procedures. In relation to the time allocation and debt issues above, these may be solved via the evaluation of management systems such as increased access to education or more rigid financial control systems that focus on sustainability. It may take a leader to ensure the success of these initiatives as he will act as the ambassador (guiding light), however managers will delicately plan the action steps needed from a time, human and financial resource perspective.

      In conclusion a fantastic example is Parents or Parenting. (good) Parents must play both roles as the manager of their children’s lives via the implementation of numerous management control systems; from bed time curfews to the time allocation of schooling and extra circular activity. As well as the leaders of the family via the inspiration and guidance necessary for their children to understand why these management systems are even necessary in assisting them to achieve their life ambitions.

      I don’t think it is fair to characterize leaders as good while managers are bad. I believe both are capable of negativity unless you have created a criterion that constitutes a leader as good because I believe leaders can also be bad. I won’t blame leadership or management philosophies for today’s issues I would blame the architects “humans” and our misuse of the concepts in varying scenarios.

      Overall great discussion from you both and keep up the inspirational blogging Travis.

Anonymous Reply

Excellent books to read are 1) First Break all the Rules (Marcus Buckingham)
2) The Future of Management (Gary Hamel)
I assure you that you will gain a new appreciation for the delicacy of great management.

Anonymous Reply

Travis – Love your response here. I think the distinction is this – you can be a good leader AND a good manager. BUT, not all good managers are good leaders. I agree that employees don’t need someone to look over their shoulders. Managers tell you how to do something. Leaders offer guidance, yet give employees freedom to do the job.

Sara Reply

As a person in you’ve given me a great list to benchmark my servant-leadership (is that even in the Bible – not exactly, but still…) Great, Travis. Thanks! 

Sara Reply

As a person in you’ve given me a great list to benchmark my servant-leadership (is that even in the Bible – not exactly, but still…) Great, Travis. Thanks! 

Midnightpaw1313 Reply

Leaders empower others.

lift others up.

I took a friend under my wing, she was 14 at the time mow
15, she moved back to her home country, be for she left I encouraged her to do
what she loved and whatever that was to not stop. She loves to sing and dance,
a few weeks later I got an e-mail, she was having so much fun and was on a
dance team or something at school. She was only in the US for a year, but I wanted
to lift her up as her home situation was not the best, she has to grow up fast
to help out in the family of two little siblings and whatnot. She is a good
sweet girl.

By the two lines above in green, in that since I’m a leader,
I see that as a trait we should all try and have, to help others.  Just my 2 cents, I do not think of myself as
a leader, I think would I be able to run my own company someday, but I rethink
that, now that I see your traits of a leader. I know I do what I want to do, I’ll
just take it slow. Thank, for the fantastic article. Everyone should be reading
this, it really helps.

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