Are You A Leader Or A Manager? (Part 1)

leadership and management Apr 02, 2018

There is a meme floating around in the business community that says that everyone should be a leader, not a manager. A leadership position is much to be aspired to while being a manager is often considered a step down. Managers have no glory but leaders are the heroes.

We’ve heard it all before. Business magazines tout the virtues of leadership and praise the leaders and say little about the managers who toil at their craft.

I even coach clients who do not want to be managers but rather want to be leaders even when there is no one to lead and nothing to lead people toward if there were people for them to lead.

Leadership has a great connotation for most people… and management… well management is for managers.

Those of you who have taken my classes and/or been mentored/coached by me know that I think most people have this leadership/management thing all backwards and upside down. In my humble opinion, most people don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to management and leadership.

Often, in my classes and in my mentoring/coaching I give people clear examples of the differences between management and leadership by giving you my own experience and my own perception. I have looked for some time for a “worldly” example of the differences and alas I have found an example that you can all sink your teeth into and clearly get my drift. It has nothing to do with business, engineering, or technical management and leadership, but it is a great example of the differences non-the-less.


My definition leadership & management

Over my career inside technical organizations and after completing my MBA, I began to focus my attention on managers and leaders I worked with. With my new perspective after my MBA, in which I specialized on leadership and management, I began to notice something very interesting. Certain leaders I worked for failed because they did not manage their teams. Certain managers who were excellent and excelled in their careers were very good leaders at times.

I began to develop the idea that management and leadership were two sides of the same coin. It seemed critical that successful managers were at times leaders and successful leaders were managers as well, especially of their staff.

So managers have to manage and sometimes lead, and leaders have to lead and sometimes manage.

My definitions, in a nutshell, are as follows:

  • Leadership is the ability to manage a team into the unknown, lead them into something that has never been done before.
  • Management is the ability to manage a team into the known, manage them into something that has been done before.

Here is an example of both, in the real world.


My example: a book about caves

That’s right. It’s not a book on management and leadership exactly. No, while this book is not specifically about leadership or management it is actually one of the best books out there on the subjects.

It’s a book about “supercave” exploring. The book is titled “Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Cave on Earth” by James M. Tabor. It was published in 2011.

Whether you are a spelunker or a supercave explorer (and they are very different), an engineer, a technical manager, a leader, a supervisor, a CIO, CTO, vice president, or CEO, this book is about leadership and management and is worth reading.

It is a true story. It is well documented, well written, interesting, factual, and relatively recent. It’s about two major protagonists, Bill Stone, an American and Alexander Klimchouk, the Russian.


Bill Stone: Good leader & poor manager

Bill Stone, by all accounts is a leader, especially in the American “definition” of the word. Stone is a leader on a par with anyone in Silicon Valley and anyone in the best-known American corporations. And he is a terrible manager. And it shows in his processes and in his results.

He and his team explore what just might be the deepest cave in the world, the vast Cheve Cave in southern Mexico, on a quest to be the first to find the deepest cave in the world. It is a race to find the officially documented deepest cave in the world… a race against other supercave explorers. And his leadership is unquestionably top notch but his management is not, and it leads to mutinies, desertions, and worse for his team. He doesn’t find the deepest cave in the world; but he doesn’t find the deepest cave in the world… his way.


Alexander Klimchouk: Good leader & good manager

On the other side of the globe, in Abkhazia, in the south-eastern Republic of Georgia, north of the Black Sea is another cave, known as Krubera. Here the Russian Alexander Klimchouk and his team look for the deepest point in Krubera in the hope of claiming it as the deepest cave in the world… first. Klimchouk is both a good leader and a good manager. Like clock work he shifts from leading to managing and back in a smooth process of finding the deepest point in the cave. His teams are energized, motivated, committed, safe, and successful. He leads them into the unknown and manages them in doing what has been done in cave exploring many times before.


The Leader versus the Manager

As I stated previously, I believe that management and leadership are two sides of the same coin. A successful leader cannot be so without being a good manager and a good manager ultimately cannot prevail without being a leader.

The manager in you must be developed first, however. A manager can manage for a reasonably long time, in most situations, without being a leader, but a leader cannot successfully lead for very long without being a manager. That is, most situations in life that require management and leadership require more management than they do leadership. And many situations demand 100% management while requiring no leadership at all.

For example, in supercave exploration, much of what is required for success is logistics and planning and execution, all management functions. They have been done hundreds of times before and the processes that lead to success are generally well known.

The leadership portion is necessary but minimal as in most projects, programs, or situations in life. To be sure, leadership is necessary, but it is not the sole parameter for success and it does not “live” by itself.

In my world, whether you are the CEO or the manufacturing floor supervisor and regardless of your title, if you are accomplishing tasks through the application of people, then there are six functions that you must perform. I call them functions because all managers and leaders must perform them, but the tasks within each function vary depending upon your level in the organization; the functions apply to everyone regardless of his or her level in the organization.


The Six Functions of successful leaders and managers

The Six Functions of the Executive are as follows:

  1. Create or Aim the Team at a Target

Create a target to point and move the team towards.

  1. Create an Environment Where People Want to Participate

Create an environment that people want to be a part of and want to contribute 110%.

  1. Secure Resources and Remove Obstacles

Secure necessary resources (that the team can not get on their own) and remove obstacles (that the team cannot remove on their own).

  1. Manage the Interfaces

Manage and “lubricate” the interfaces that the team cannot do for themselves. The goal is to make the interfaces operate smoothly.

  1. Get Results

Achieve results and accomplish the target.

  1. Control Your Emotional State

The leader/manager must control their emotional and physiological states in order to motivate the team appropriately.

As you read “Blind Decent” you will notice that Bill Stone and Alexander Klimchouk perform each of the functions to differing degrees of competence. In fact, I grade them as follows:


                                                         Bill Stone                    Alexander Klimchouk


  1. Create a Target………….…….. Good.................................... Good
  2. Environment………………….... Poor..................................... Good
  3. Resources/Obstacles……….. Fair....................................... Good
  4. Interfaces……………………...... Poor...................................... Good
  5. Results………………………........ Good.................................... Good
  6. Emotional State……………….. Poor..................................... Good

Whether you are a manager or a leader you must perform these six functions successfully. Whether you are the CEO or the floor supervisor determines which of these functions you emphasize and what tasks you perform in their achievement but they all must be “covered”.

Read this book and learn something you may not have known about supercave exploration, and notice the differences between the styles of Bill Stone and Alexander Klimchouk. The behaviors displayed by Klimchouk are what I teach regarding management and leadership. Management and leadership are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other and sometimes you want the coin to turn up “leadership” and sometimes “management”, but unlike a coin, successful managers and leaders do not leave it to chance.

Be well,

Steven Cerri

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Cras sed sapien quam. Sed dapibus est id enim facilisis, at posuere turpis adipiscing. Quisque sit amet dui dui.
Call To Action

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.