Be the Leader & Hire the Manager

Image Source: SuperThinking

What do you think: Is there a difference between a leader and a manager?  In short, the answer is a resounding yes. And learning the distinction – as well as defining which one you are as an individual – will yield tremendous results while running a bar, nightclub, or restaurant (or any other business for that matter).

The two terms are often confused and used interchangeably, and almost everybody wants to be good at both. The question is can you be good at both? A leader is simply defined as someone who leads. This is the definition of leadership: “to go before or with to show the way, to guide in direction, course, action, or opinion.” A manager is defined as someone who manages, or a person “who has control of an institution or business.” To manage (in this context) is defined as: “to handle, direct, govern, or control in action or uses.” The two almost seem contradictory, and in a fact are: one helps and guides (think Grandma teaching you how to bake cookies) while the other controls (think Mom yelling at you to clean up the cookie mess). To help further distinguish we can say:

  1. A leader sees the vision, sets the path, way, and tone while a manager implements the vision and controls the outcome to the best of his ability. With the path set, it is the manager who does not deviate from the course, but rather commands that the others follow it.
  2. A manager lights a fire under people to get them moving. A leader ignites a fire inside them to motivate them to move.

Truly understanding these distinctions will empower one to become more successful by recognizing their individual traits and strengths in a role, while simultaneously delegating the other role to one whose traits and strengths are aligned with that position (and who doesn’t like delegating?). This is beneficial because it frees both to focus on their innate talents, creating a winning team working toward a common goal.

To help you define which one you are, manager or leader, we have to outline some characteristics that describe the two. For example, I often interview managers and ask them to tell me the qualities that a good leader or manager should possess. The most oft cited responses are:


  • Integrity
  • Communication skills
  • Commitment
  • Fortitude
  • Vision
  • Listening
  • Courage
  • Competence


  • Calmness
  • Flexibility
  • Hands on knowledge
  • Math skills
  • Punctuality
  • Task oriented
  • Multi-tasker
  • Detail oriented

While some of these characteristics are interchangeable, those of a leader center on internal character, those of a manager are focused on external control. I then ask them, using these traits, to define themselves as one or the other. With this set, I ask them to define their style and over 85% respond with “Lead by example.” Asking them to explain what this means, I usually get something about jumping behind the bar when it’s busy, bussing tables, running food, or jump on the line to cook when they’re slammed.  I then ask them to look at the list of traits they told me a good leader must have and point out where it says “bus tables”? Instant silence. I mean, palpable silence. You can almost see their brains short circuit.

So while they are clear on these distinctions in theory, they blur the lines in practice. So what about you? Which characteristics do you ascribe to yourself, and how do you practice them? If one truly leads by example, wouldn’t one want to set a tone of honor, integrity, and strength of purpose instead of helping wash the dishes?

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