Don’t Manage People, Lead Teams

Gary Keller says, “You can manage things and you can lead people, but you can rarely manage people effectively, and you can never lead things.” In many organizations, positions of leadership include the title “manager.” But what does it really mean to “manage” others? Can you actually get results that way? The answer is, not really. When we change our way of thinking from managing people to leading people, we can more effectively guide our team toward the results we want.

Thinking of “leadership” instead of “management” may seem like simply a semantics issue, but the roots of the language we use around workplace organization run deep and influence the way we think and act. Managing is essentially exerting control and authority to effect change. Leadership is affecting thinking, creating internal change that then leads to external change. When put like this, obviously leadership sounds nicer than management. But ultimately, our habits and ideas have made simply managing much easier than acting as a leader. But don’t fear! We can change the way we think about our roles and become the leaders our team needs so we can get to the best destination together.

Would You Rather…?

If you are calling yourself a manager, you may in fact be inadvertently confusing yourself and your people about what your job really is. As we said, language is important. Take a look at these synonyms for “Managed” and “Led.”


Ask yourself if you would personally like to be managed or led but use these synonyms instead. Would you rather be supervised or counseled? What about dictated or advised? Changing your mindset to one of leadership instead of management is the first domino to changing your relationship with yourself and your team. 

As leaders, we will often you’ll have people on your team that make you better by being strong in areas that you aren’t. Every CEO should head strategic thinking, but they often engage experts in other areas to help enact those plans—like having a marketing department that understands social media and can use it to help execute the strategies of the company. This way, the CEO doesn’t have to keep abreast with the latest hashtags and can focus on what they are best at, trusting others to focus on their area of expertise. This idea is the foundation of leverage and teamwork, where you can combine the efforts of many toward a large, shared goal.

Still, because leaders help people learn how to think, they should expect to have to share the “why” and not just “what,” behind business decisions. Teammates will want systems in place that respect their ideas and want to be consulted about how to run all aspects of their career and business better. These are good qualities to have in team members! You want talent that will push you to become better. As the old maxim states, “Steel sharpens steel.”

Change Yourself, Not Others

Managing is a concept used to describe what you do when you achieve change through controlling someone or something. Leading is a concept used to describe what you do when you achieve change through influencing someone.

Leaders understand their team members’ goals, motivations, and the type of support they want and need. People and organizations should always be evolving. This means that team members may have different requests and expectations than they had in the past, so the way we get results through them should be different, too. This means the leader needs to be open to changing also.

Managers often think of changing their people instead of themselves because, well, they’re in charge. But we can’t change people. By changing ourselves and the way we relate, communicate, behave, decide, and share, we can be a model to help others change themselves.

When you influence someone to make the best choices, guide them to success, and counsel them when they need help, you are effecting the change you want in order to get the best results. When you are trying to make people do what you want them to do without understanding their position, well, we all know how that can go.

Live In Harmony

Like we said in the beginning, you can manage things and lead people, but you can’t do it the other way around. There will be times when you are called to manage (control) projects. But managing projects becomes much easier when you are leading, and not managing, the people around you who are tackling the projects at hand.

Think of it this way: You change your thinking to understand that you must alter your behavior so you can then influence another person’s thinking so that they are able to do what they have to do to accomplish the goal.

A good leader shares responsibility with the team, teaches how to think, and lets their team members solve their own problems. Good leaders don't want to control people or outcomes, the wants to teach self-leadership and accountability. They create a climate of open and consistent communication where team members stay informed.

This can be done in a lot of ways. We recommend weekly 411s with each member of your team where you can help them think about their role and their goals and in turn they can express any concerns. Hold regular team meetings and create an environment for open and honest communication. Set expectations up front and guide your people along their way to success. And as the person in charge, educate yourself on what it means to be leader. What are some areas you could work on to help your team grow and achieve better results? Remember, it starts with you!

What are some things you’ve done as a leader that has helped your team become their best selves? What are some things you’d like to improve on? Let us know on our KellerINK Facebook page. And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for more exciting articles.

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