How A Great Leader Can Be A Bad Manager

Is it possible to be both great and awful at two things which seem to be so inextricably linked?

Jekyll and Hyde

Leadership and Management are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are in fact distinctly different things. Leadership is a part of the role of every manager, but great leaders do not have to be great at management.

Directing people is part of the role of every manager and that does involve some elements of leadership, but a manager can still do a good job without being a particularly great leader. A great leader, however, can be pretty awful at many aspects of management. Having said that, they are unlikely to be really successful as a leader without having at least a good understanding of what an important and essential role management plays in their business.

Here are three examples of how a good leader can do without some of the skills and qualities considered essential to managers:

1. Leaders do not need to be good at detail.

A manager needs to understand the detail of how tasks will be achieved, who is going to do what and when. They need to be well organized, capable of planning and devising the most efficient systems of working. A leader on the other hand will have their eyes on the horizon, taking a top level, strategic view of things. They do not need to be good at working out the detail and solving operational problems, in fact their vision can be hampered by thinking too much about the minutia.

The leader has to be able to see which direction the organization needs to be travelling in, but does not need to be any good at working out exactly how to get there.

2. Leaders do not have to follow rules and avoid risks.

Part of being a good manager involves the avoidance of undue risks and focussing on establishing and following rules and guidelines. These are the ways in which the required tasks can be achieved in the most efficient way.

A leader does not (and indeed should not) need to be constrained by rules and the need to avoid risk. In fact they are very unlikely to be great leaders if they are. The leader must always be challenging the status quo and be willing to try new and risky things in order to move the company on.

3. Leaders do not need to be good at controlling people

A manager is in an appointed position and exercises control over people through that official status. They must have an understanding of how to ensure those under their control are doing all the things they need to do. A leader, on the other hand, does not have to be in a formal position in order to be recognised as a leader. They do not need to be concerned with how to persuade people to do what they are told, because people choose to follow them voluntarily.

When people follow great leaders, it is not because they know they are subordinates and must do what they are told. The leader inspires loyalty and trust through their own behaviours. They take responsibility and blame where appropriate, they frequently give credit and recognition and they celebrate success. It is these and other actions, along with their passion, enthusiasm and vision that inspire people to follow them.


While leadership and management are both essentials in successful businesses, all the elements of each one does not have to be found in the same person. There are great managers and there are great leaders. Some are fortunate enough to be good at both, but many are not.

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