Good Leaders Guide, Bad Managers Dictate

The terms leader and manager are too often used interchangeably. They may be complimentary responsibilities, but they are not the same. Both should know where they want their team to go, but leaders get to know the members of their team and motivate each member to do his or her best to help the team reach the desired goal. A manager is more interested in the tracking process details. The ideal leader can combine both aspects well.

In all my years in the work force, I have seen both good leaders and bad managers. A good leader always knows the people on their team and each member’s strengths and weaknesses. Good leaders learn what they can delegate to each individual and know the task will be completed well. A bad manager tells subordinates exactly what to do and how to do it. Even then the bad manager may not trust the team member to actually accomplish the task. Even if the task is done well, the bad manager might curtly thank the person for the work and then proceed to tell the team member all the things the team member needs to do differently. Changing the goals without buy-in from the team member is a quick avenue towards the failure of the team.


1775 is a good year to demonstrate the difference between good leadership and bad management. In the short term, bad management will often win. In the long term, good leadership will usually win. Leading up to 1775, Great Britain kept raising taxes without giving the colonists any say in how those taxes would be spent. After too many poor decisions, bad management leads to revolts. In the case of the colonists, it led to the slogan “Taxation without Representation” and eventually the American Revolution. People always want a say in their own future. That is still true today, especially on any team. In contrast, George Washington was willing to listen to those around him and give people (most of the time) input into any major decisions. He was good at this. That is one reason why he was asked to be the General of the Army and eventually President of the United States. The bad management of Great Britian, their use of fear, led to the rise of George Washington as a great leader.


Good leaders serve those on their team to develop skills needed to create a better product and efficiently complete any project. A bad manager likes to be in total control and believes they know more about any problem than any member of their team. To keep control, the worst manager often rules through fear. Think of the British in the 1775 example. Both good leaders and bad managers identify the strongest members of their teams. The best leader helps that person develop those skills and talents to best serve their team. The worst manager recognizes those skills and considers the team member a threat to the manager’s control and makes sure that person receives no credit for any of team’s success.

Remember “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A good leader treats all team members with the respect they would like for themselves.

Team Member Responsibility

Team Members are a vital ingredient to the successful completion of any project. As was presented earlier, each person brings their own experiences to any project. A good leader should know each team member’s strengths, capabilities, and growth areas. A leader knows the goals for each project. Members are usually assigned parts of the project for which they excel. If a team member wants to learn new skills, a good leader can provide opportunities on small pieces of a new project. If a team member has done similar assignments before, they may need little help. For new areas, the team member might need a mentor to progress past the member’s comfort zone. The mentor usually is assigned a related area of the project so that they can work naturally together.

The bad managers I have seen appear to think that team members are interchangeable. The worst managers tell each team member what they must do and how to do it, forgetting that each team member has expertise in particular areas and may even have more experience than the manager.

Team members need respect and to be given assignments that will allow them to succeed. Often the assignments are based on the team member’s experience. Occasionally, with team member’s agreement, the team member may be given assignments expanding their field of expertise to help them grow and innovate.

Processes and Tools

All teams that need good leaders. I am most familiar with teams that develop products (and students). Using a company’s preferred set of tools, a good leader develops plans to fully utilize the people available. At Tektronix we used processes that eventually evolved into the Agile Manifesto. One of the most used implementations of the Agile Manifesto is the Scrum Methodology. Tools are aids to complete projects. Tools may vary from sticky notes on a large wall in the office to online project tracking tools. Using a combination of these tools is the most effective. Every time we came into our team area at Tektronix, the sticky notes reminded us of where we were exactly on the development of our project. As reached the release date, it was exciting to watch the last few sticky notes being marked as completed.


Team pulling project to completion with Leaders/Managers deciding the best way to help or control
Leaders/Managers watching team formation and deciding if they are a leader or a manager.

A team consists of a group of individuals pulling a project forward. A leader is a member of that team and works with the team members to move the project forward. The organization chooses who would be best to lead the development of the project. A good leader leads from the front and guides the team to a successful conclusion. A bad manager often sits on the block and tells the team members what to do and where to go. The results of these two types of direction are usually similar to the results from the 1775 example. It is far better having a good leader for an important project than a bad manager. A good leader should always strive to be the best possible leader for the success of any project.

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