Young manager listening to his colleague explanations

Manager Vs. Leader: Managers Tell, Leaders Sell

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

“Managers change behavior. Leaders change the way you think without you realizing it.”
—Daniel Burrus

As a high-impact leader, you must understand the difference between managing and leading. You must learn how to apply the principles of each so you can achieve great results and inspire others to do the same. To give meaning to your words and your actions, you also must model the appropriate leader behavior and the appropriate manager behavior at the right times, for the right reasons.

I often use the following example when trying to help people understand the difference between leadership and management:

Assume for a moment, I’m a manager who just finished attending an all-day Lean Manufacturing class on how to improve productivity by creating single-piece flow and eliminating any batch and queue processes whenever possible. I have an “Aha!” moment in class and realize I have the perfect opportunity to make changes in my department. The next day, I tell my team about the changes and start directing them on what to do—what goes, what stays, and how I expect things to work.

I assume the team will do as they are told to keep their job. Plus, they already know this is how I operate. They most likely will badmouth me once I leave the area, because that’s how they operate. I do what I do, and they do what they do. We don’t have a relationship. I’m the boss; they are the workers. I say what to do, and they do it.

I’ve witnessed this scene many times. It describes the management of people. Telling people what to do is management, not leadership. But a leader of people will do things much differently.

As a leader, I would explain the key things I had already learned in class. I would find a way to share the knowledge. In other words, I would find a way to teach my team what I learned before we made any changes because I want their buy-in and their ideas. What’s more, I would want us all to be on the same page.


Then, I would ask them questions and give them time to think about it and talk it over among themselves. I would want them to generate ideas because they will buy-in to their own ideas much faster and for much longer than they will buy-in to my ideas. Why? Because they want their ideas to work, and they have something to prove: They know how to make things better. We also would have mini-kaizen events on the fly and improve the area together. I would do a lot of listening, learning, and asking questions, especially if I had an idea the team hadn’t considered. Finally, we would decide what to do together.

Clearly, leadership is about helping other people think at a higher level and helping them become responsible for improving themselves and their processes. It’s about enabling the team to provide solutions, which allows them to accept responsibility.

Also, when you think of respect for the people, think of leadership principles. To demonstrate respect for the people, you must lead them. When you think of continuous improvement, think of leadership principles supported by management principles. Always leadership first—because influence is the foundation of action.


No doubt, we must manage things, objects, and processes. But these are things that can’t feel, so management is just about achieving competency. However, we should lead people, because they do think and feel. People have the freedom to choose to follow or not to follow.

Remember: associates don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do. They can quit and leave at any moment. However, most associates who report to managers—low-impact leaders—do something much worse than quitting. They quit but stay. It’s called disengagement. As a high impact leader, your mission is to engage the disengaged.

You must lead people in such a way they choose to lead themselves well, they choose to lead others well, and they choose to manage their processes well. Lean is about people first and processes second.

Bottom line: Leadership is influence. With it, you will thrive. Without it, you will take a dive. When it comes to leadership, you must walk the talk. If you do, you will make deposits. If you don’t, you will make withdrawals.

Editor’s note: This post is adapted from Blue-Collar Kaizen: Leading Lean & Lean Teams.

About the Author

Mack’s passion is to help leaders engage the front line to improve the bottom line.

In 1988, Mack began his career in the manufacturing industry on the front lines as an entry-level machine operator. He began attending college in 1995, graduating with highest honors in the Executive BBA program. As his career progressed, Mack grew himself into upper management and found his niche in lean manufacturing.

Mack’s amazing and inspirational journey of personal transformation and professional growth allowed him to be promoted 14 times during his 20 year manufacturing career before he started his own Lean Manufacturing and Leadership Development firm in 2008.
He discovered his passion for growing and developing people at all levels between 2005-2012 while logging more than 11,000 hours leading hundreds of leaders and their teams through process improvement (kaizen events), leadership development, organizational change, and cultural transformation.

Mack co-founded Top Story Leadership with his wife, Ria, to provide motivational speaking, leadership development training, coaching, and consulting. They have published 20 books on personal growth and leadership development and are often featured keynote speakers at conferences and seminars. Regardless of the topic or audience, Mack and Ria most often speak and teach together providing their audiences a much more dynamic, humorous, and engaging experience.

Mack and Ria had the privilege of joining John Maxwell in Guatemala as part of the nationwide cultural transformation initiative in 2013 where over 20,000 Guatemalan leaders were trained in just one week. One of the highlights from their speaking career was receiving an invitation from world renowned motivational speaker Les Brown in 2014 to speak at an event he was hosting in Los Angeles, CA.
Mack developed and launched his very popular Blue-Collar Leadership℠ brand in 2016. Blue-Collar Leadership℠ is uniquely designed content specifically created to engage and develop the often overlooked, underappreciated, and underdeveloped front line blue-collar workforce, those who lead them, and those who support them. Mack has published three books as part of the Blue-Collar Leadership Series: Blue-Collar Leadership: Leading from the Front Lines, Blue-Collar Leadership & Supervision: Unleash Your Team’s Potential, and Blue-Collar Kaizen: Leading Lean & Lean Teams.

Mack enjoys unleashing people’s potential by taking the complex and making it simple.

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