The Keys to Leadership and Management

While “leadership” and “management” are sometimes used interchangeably, they are discrete concepts that complement each other. If you’re running a small business, you’re already intimately familiar with the management skills needed to be successful. If you never had the opportunity to study business in school, you probably acquired your management style and skills by trial and error, and through on-the-job training. There’s nothing better than the school of hard knocks to instill important lessons that will never be forgotten.

Good management is one key to your success, but what about good leadership? Is leadership important if you are a sole proprietor, or only have one or two employees? The answer should be a resounding “yes.” The best time to develop your leadership abilities is when you are starting out and have little or no staff. The people who will notice are your clients, customers, suppliers, and bankers. You’ll earn their respect if you conduct business in a way that inspires confidence and trust. This will make it far more likely that they will go out on a limb to help you when you find yourself in a pinch.


Think of leadership as a process of developing a team that will work together to achieve personal goals and company objectives. That team should include everyone inside and outside your company that you depend on to succeed. The best leaders act in terms of “we” rather than “I.” The idea is to share a common vision and get all the members of the team to buy in to the tough decisions made at the top. It’s important that all the team members believe that the company’s survival and success depend as much on them as it does on the owner or boss. They will make sacrifices for the sake of the team so long as they see sacrifices being made at the top.

One of the primary differences between management and leadership is that management can be delegated but leadership cannot. Management provides the necessary organization, structure, and stability for operating a business. Effective managers prioritize tasks and ensure that capable people are available to perform them. They delegate those tasks and supervise and monitor the performance of the team as the tasks are completed.

While managers are process-oriented, leaders should be focused on the big picture. They provide the atmosphere and inspiration for people to prosper through innovation, creativity, and self-motivation. While managers may issue instructions on what needs to be done, leaders are focused on uniting and guiding the team without actually controlling it. The common vision must come from the top, so delegating it is not an option.

Leadership in Business

One reason why business leadership often takes a back seat to management is that leadership is usually associated with the military and politics. Most of us can easily create a list of our favorite generals and presidents because we associate their positions with the essence of leadership. Because of constant threats posed by others around the world, we want strong leaders in charge of our government and armed forces. Ask anyone to name great leaders and they will invariably list people who rose to prominence during periods of war, turmoil, or other national crises.

When we think of corporate CEOs, we usually think first of their ability to effectively manage their companies. While this is important, their ability to lead and inspire their employees can be even more critical to the company’s success. This concept was concisely captured by General George Patton when he said “Don't tell people how to do things; tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” When leading men into battle, he relied on them to come up with the best way to accomplish their mission. He knew that the best laid plans couldn’t account for every obstacle they would face, and that the men had to adapt and alter plans as conditions on the ground changed.

Patton’s philosophy also applies to running a business. If people are allowed to innovate and find solutions to problems on their own, the payoff is a nimble workforce that is prepared to attack the most difficult challenges. This approach also prepares them to make intelligent, well-informed decisions based on all the facts available.

Setting the Example

While no two leaders are alike, they should both have at least one thing in common. Setting the example for others to follow is probably the most critical trait of a good leader. That concept is even more important during difficult economic times when uncertainty rules, and people are concerned about losing their jobs. If a leader is honest and acts with unquestioned integrity, people are more likely to rally around and do whatever it takes to help the entire team. It’s a lot easier for an employee to accept a pay freeze or cut if the boss accepts a much bigger percentage cut. They simply want their interests protected as much as those at the top.

Setting the example means you will willingly do everything you ask your people to do. You set the standard for performance and ensure they have the tools and training to succeed. If you treat them with respect, you have a far greater chance of earning their respect. These are timeless principles that form the bedrock of great businesses around the globe.

Real World

Management and leadership both have vital roles in running a profitable business, regardless of its size. If people have the right resources and a leader who coaches and motivates them to be the best they can be, there’s virtually no limit to what they can accomplish. Set high expectations and you will be rewarded with matching achievements. Acknowledge and reward those achievements and more will follow.

There’s no magic formula for a great leader, and some would argue that leadership ability is something you acquire at birth. That’s debatable, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing what you can to develop and hone your leadership skills. Be decisive, exude confidence, champion change, and think outside the box. As General Patton once said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking.”

Michael Sanibel is a professional writer and communications consultant specializing in business, marketing, personal finance, law, science, aviation, sports, automobiles, entertainment, travel, and political analysis. He graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and is also licensed to practice law in California, New Hampshire, and the U. S. Supreme Court. Michael wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie (, an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.