The problem with ‘leader’ and ‘manager’ labels for small business owners 

Angry boss screams at camera



If you scroll through LinkedIn, it won’t be long before you read a post about how everyone should be a leader and not a manager.


Leaders are said to roll up their sleeves, inspire, and get in the thick of it while managers are painted as dictators who dish out orders and whip their staff.


So what’s with this glorification & villainy? When in reality, the main difference between the two is:

‘Management’ = operational duties and ‘Leadership’ = visionary & growth duties.


As a small business owner, you need to be both a manager and a leader.


But how does being both a leader and a manager work if they are different skills?


That’s what we’ll look at now – with five ways I’ve helped my clients do this.


Let’s get started.


  1. Define accountability

When more than one person is responsible for something, no one is. That’s why when my clients ask me to improve their team’s performance, one of the first things I do is define everyone’s responsibilities.


Whether it’s with job descriptions, objectives or KPIs – it’s essential your people know what is expected of them and how it will be measured. Without this, how will anyone know if they’re doing a good or bad job?


I invite you to do this now. Take some time to define what each person’s roles and responsibilities are in your company.


Don’t worry if leaders are responsible for some management tasks – you’ve probably cleaned the loos at some point as well.


And ignore what the latest business book says you should be doing. Sometimes if you wait for everything to be perfect, it never happens.


Get started now and you’ll thank me later.


  1. Break the drama triangle

Karpman’s drama triangle
Karpman’s drama triangle


How many hours a week do you spend firefighting? Be honest. Write the number down.


Now look at it. Never mind every hour, every minute spent firefighting is too long and can be avoided. There are far more productive things everyone could be doing.


When I first sit down with a new client, almost all of them are reactive. This isn’t sustainable and you’re making your business growth & day-to-day running harder than it needs to be.


My clients who have broken the cycle do so with planning, structure and solid foundations. That is leadership.


Contrary to what people think, you don’t need lots of processes to avoid firefighting. Instead, I help my clients build a good culture with their staff.


I’ve said it time and time again, but you must put your people at the heart of your business. They’re your USP and your greatest asset bar none.


Staff who have psychological safety and aren’t afraid to try new things and make mistakes perform the best.


That is what makes the difference between plodding along and scaling.


  1. Be your authentic self

image of selling to serve by James Ashford. Available on audible.

As long as you aren’t naturally offensive (or illegally inclined), you need to be true to your own values and personality.


When you’re running a small business, it can feel like you have to be all things to all people. So why make it harder on yourself by pretending to be someone you’re not?


The employer-employee relationship is like any other relationship; sometimes it doesn’t work out. It doesn’t mean you or your employee are bad people. It means the fit isn’t right.


In his book Selling to Serve, James Ashford invites you to imagine if your friends could hear you talking to your clients. He asks if they would recognise you? And would they still want to be your friend?


If either of those is a ‘no’, you need to work on being yourself.


I use Myers Briggs to get a better understanding of the personality traits of you and your staff. Read about how I helped Tennick Accountants achieve a record month by implementing this in their business.


  1. Play yourself and your team to your strengths

women's football team in a group

If you are motivated and energised by doing a good job, knowing what is expected of you, playing to your strengths and taking some time for you, guess what? Your team will be too!


Help people find their niche and give people additional responsibility that doesn’t necessarily fit with their role.


Craft something for them. Don’t worry about labels like ‘management’ and ‘leadership’.


Give people tasks they enjoy and things will get done.


That is taking ‘operational’ to the next level.


That is teamwork.


That is good management.


  1. Ask lots of questions

two people sitting and talking
Ask your staff questions and listen to their answers.


You need your team to feel part of your business’s success.


If you get to know people, you will create the right culture where everyone wants your business to succeed.


And the best way to get to know people? Ask them questions and listen to their answers. In fact, the best and most effective tool any manager or leader can use is listening.


Business owners who don’t listen to their people must want their business to fail. If that’s you, this article will help make sure your team is guaranteed to fail.


So ask away. Show an interest. A genuine interest.


Your team will reward you with hard work and loyalty.


Going forward


It would be easier if you had different colour hats for all the different roles you play. That way, it’d be clearer to you and your team what role you were playing at any given time. But we’re in the real world, so unless you’re JK and your team is Jamiroquai, that won’t happen.


it’s really hard to see what’s working and what isn’t in your own business but you can’t afford not to reflect on everything we’ve covered.


Whether you don’t have the right team, you’re short-staffed, or whatever… burying your head in the sand will only make it worse.


Not reflecting and adapting will impact your clients.


If any of the above sounds like something you think your business needs some help with, email me now at







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