Leaders and Managers Have Nothing in Common

Manage stuff. Lead people.

Managers are one of the core business diseases of the Industrial Age. They are sacred cows who have been around only for a little over a century, but who should go away as quickly as possible. Few things are as disruptive, unhelpful, and unproductive in the workplace as managers.


Solve and Decide, or Become Less Important?
The manager’s worst habits are to a) solve things and b) decide things. No other actions are as debilitating to others. When a manager solves and decides, the only thing left is to delegate tasks to be executed—“put this nut on that bolt, at this rate.” But when we delegate tasks, people feel used. Managers who solve and decide things are fundamental in the dehumanizing of the workplace, because tasks are for machines.

Leaders do it quite differently. They train others to solve problems and make decisions, and then they get out of the way. If you’re becoming less and less important in your position, you’re leading.

The Best Business Leader Makes the Fewest Decisions
The art of traditional management involves planning, organizing, staffing, controlling, and manipulating human capital. In the awful assumption of traditional management model, people are “capital” to be manipulated and controlled.

In contrast, the art of leadership is to know how few decisions the leader needs to make.

Ricardo Semler, the architect behind Semco, an $800 million Brazilian Participation Age company (with 3,000 stakeholders, but no managers), just celebrated his 10th anniversary of not making a decision. That is tremendous leadership, the kind we should all aspire to by training others to “solve and decide” and then, by getting out their way.

It works because Semler and other Semco leaders have trained others to solve problems and make decisions. Having gotten out of the way, the leaders are now free to stop solving and deciding, and instead to ask questions and think about the future. If you’re making decisions for others, you’re managing. If you’re just asking questions, you’re leading.

What Are You Delegating; Tasks or Responsibility?
We said earlier that when managers delegate tasks (“put this nut on that bolt”), people feel used, because tasks are for machines. But leaders delegate responsibility (“make a great product”)—a much broader request that requires thinking, solving, and deciding. When given responsibility, people take ownership, and ownership is the most powerful motivator in business. Are you delegating tasks, which simply require action, or delegating responsibility, which requires the whole messy, creative person to show up?

Management Is Not Leadership; Leadership Is Not Management
Management is a very recently invented construct, but leadership has been around for centuries. We’ve conflated the two. Here’s a simple reference for pulling them back apart:

Manage Stuff. Lead People.

The traditional business model we inherited from the factory system of the Industrial Age made the flawed assumption that people need to be managed like stuff. They don’t. They need to be led, and the difference is not semantic, it is gigantic.

Stuff needs to be managed. People don’t. The factory system reinvented people as extensions of machines, and when people are extensions of machines, they are “stuff” to be managed. But if they are fully human, they require leadership, not management.

In our company, we only manage stuff; computers, numbers, software, processes, systems, delivery of goods and services, accounting, marketing, sales, etc. These are all “things” to be managed, and everyone in our business manages stuff. But we don’t need someone with the title of “manager” to hover over any of us to ensure the stuff will get managed. People manage the stuff, and we lead each other by vision, guidance, training and support, and then, most important, by getting out of the way.

The manager’s quest is to be as helpful as possible for as long as possible. The leader’s quest is to relentlessly train others to solve and decide, and become less necessary every day.

It’s important enough to say twice: the art of leadership is to know how few decisions the leader needs to make. Become a leader—stop solving and deciding, and focus instead on asking questions. Everyone will be better off if you do.

Article as seen on Inc.com