How to Balance Leadership and Management

how to balance leadership and management

“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” ~ Publilius Syrus

This may be true, but small business owners are expected to “hold the helm” through both calm and rough seas. So when should you lead and when should you manage?

As people, we need leaders. Whether it’s the President of the United States, a religious leader or the “head” of your family – we look to leaders to guide us through difficult or uncertain times, to set an example, and to demand a high level of ethics from those around us.

Leaders also inspire us. In business, leaders provide direction and help employees understand their role in executing strategy (or getting the business to where it needs to be). Leaders also steer and empower employees as the business grows and new opportunities arise.

Managers, on the other hand, are all about execution. Think of managers as the undercarriage of the business. A good manager ensures employees are kept on task, have the information and tools they need to do their jobs (or execute strategy), and are there to step in and resolve problems. Managers also keep employees motivated, conduct performance reviews and assume the role of keeping the operations side of business on track.

If you’re running a small business, you need to be both a leader and a manager. The trick is determining when your employees need you to lead and when they need you to manage.

To Lead or to Manage?

Leadership and management is a sensitive balancing act. While it’s important not to lose sight of day-to-day operations, you don’t want get too caught up in the weeds and lose sight of your goals. Below are a few tips to help you balance leadership and management.

Communicate Your Vision

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”

So said Reverend Theodore Hesburgh, former President Emeritus at Notre Dame. And it’s true. Clear and honest communication is a must for effective leadership. Whether you are communicating your goals for the quarter or conducting a performance review, employees need to know:

  • Where they stand.
  • What you require of them.
  • How they can get there.

Setting milestones is a great way to do this. If you have a vision, communicate it. But be sure to back it up with concrete, measurable steps that will help guide your team towards achieving your goals and theirs.

Let Go

Show your employees that you trust them by delegating responsibility. Once they have direction from you, trust them to follow through and reward them when they do. Giving employees ownership of tasks or projects is hugely motivating. Letting go also involves giving your employees decision-making authority.

For example, if you operate a retail business, give team members the authority to spend up to $100 of company money to solve a customer problem without having to ask. Most problems can be solved with $100, whether it’s re-shipping a gift or refunding – and employees don’t have to come to you to ask.

Listen, Engage, Mentor

One easy way to help achieve the above points is to put aside day-to-day distractions and schedule one-on-one time with staff, solicit their input and listen. Regular staff meetings that encourage input and give you an opportunity to share business goals and achievements are vital to building engagement, trust and improved communication.

Mentor relationships are also great ways to get to know your staff and aid in everyone’s personal development.

Leadership Photo via Shutterstock


US Small Business Administration The US Small Business Administration is an independent federal agency that works to assist and protect the interests of American small businesses by delivering the answers, support and resources small businesses need to start-up, succeed and grow. The SBA Community is an interactive extension of the site and features a variety of discussion boards and blogs that allow business owners to connect with their peers, industry experts and government representatives to ask questions, share best practices and get advice.

11 Reactions
  1. I think you first need to be a leader before you can become a manager. After all, people would not be so willing to follow you unless you lead them. I love the image you used on this page – leadership is really all about that.

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