November 16, 2016

Founders, C-level execs and employees at every level are experiencing inescapable demand to stop managing and start leading.

Old-fashioned “do as I say and don’t complain” management simply isn’t tolerated by millennial employees. A company culture that lacks quality leadership at every level inevitably deteriorates the quality of your customers’ experience, and your profits soon follow that downward trajectory. 

Nothing gets past your customers these days. The ability to provide realtime, globally-spread feedback is brand-building or unforgiving. 

Companies today compete on culture. If your company is not cultivating leaders at every level, your customers will eventually reward the company with the culture that does.

The quality of your company culture determines if you attract and retain top talent, if you allow room for innovation, if your employees are inspired by more than a paycheck and if your customers will return and recommend you.

There is a clear distinction between managers and leaders.

Managers may produce short-term results through effective motivational tactics, often through fear-based tactics or monetary incentives.

You can recognize managers when their department cites burn out, experiences high turnover or customers receive inconsistent products or services.

Managers who are not viewed as leaders create internal instability and will always limit your company’s profit potential. Leadership can’t be forced, but it can be learned.

Leaders, conversely, create the consistent and sustainable speed, quality and service that customers demand. Profits in today’s hyper-responsive market therefore depend upon the quality of your company’s culture of leadership. 

But how do you know if you’re managing or leading? Here are five epic questions leaders ask themselves that highlight fundamental differences between being a manager or a leader:

1. What am I leading?

Managers manage deadlines, processes and tasks. Leaders lead people.

Managers are stuck in the weeds (aka micromanaging) and only have access to short-term moments of motivation.

Leaders don’t need to get into the weeds. Leaders stay people-focused and vision-driven, creating continuous and long-term momentum. They’ve empowered their employees to handle their deadlines, processes and tasks. They’ve extended trust and are available for guidance when requested.

To be a leader, you have to know what you are leading people toward.

Leaders are always leading people toward the company Vision, Values and Purpose. Without these defining cultural components, a manager literally can’t lead toward anything more than completing short-term tasks.

Leaders know that employees are not inspired by transactionally working on tasks. They are inspired by working toward the Vision, Values and Purpose of the task. 

Leaders inspire employees to create value toward something far more meaningful than menial work.

Leaders inspire by effectively articulating and assimilating a company’s Vision, Values and Purpose into the components of day to day tasks, each employee’s role, and each employee’s value in that role.

2. What behaviors and policies are tolerated that cause employees to self-protect?

Nothing shuts down progress, innovation and collaboration like self-protection. When we don’t feel that our job or integrity is safe, we turn inward and against others.

Managers erode trust by being in the weeds with employee’s deadlines, processes and tasks.

A culture that focuses performance on these elements often is a culture of blame, shame and internal competition. Especially with different competing values between departments and sometimes roles, employees in management-based companies will fight to protect themselves instead of the company. 

In leadership-based companies, instead of self-protecting blame, conflict results in vision-protecting solutions.

Leading toward your company’s Vision, Values and Purpose fosters a culture of collaboration, shared wins and company pride.

Leaders create an environment where it’s safe to fail, leading to innovation. Employees are expected to provide honest feedback from a vision-protecting mindset, and they do so without fear of retribution.

The followup question is, “What do I do that makes others go into self-protection mode?” By becoming more aware of their own behavior that enacts self-protection mode in others, leaders are able to quickly apologize, repair and rebuild with little loss to momentum.

3. How am I demonstrating or tolerating exceptions to our Vision, Values and Purpose?

A company’s Vision, Values and Purpose become a decision making tool that doesn’t leave room for exceptions.

Managers become damagers when they demonstrate or tolerate exceptions to their company’s Vision, Values and Purpose.

Since managers don’t connect day-to-day tasks to the companies vision, values and purpose, they have no way of knowing how often they make exceptions.

Exceptions result in costly inconsistency and frustrating over lack of direction.

Even worse, exceptions create an inability for employees to learn how to make decisions that are in alignment with the company, inhibiting employee growth, competence and empowerment. 

Since managers don’t connect day-to-day tasks to the companies vision, values and purpose, they have no way of knowing how often they make exceptions.

Company’s that tolerate too many exceptions create a chaotic culture. No one knows what’s up or down, what’s to come, or how to move forward. Every decision has to go up the chain and rests unsustainably on an individual manager’s judgment.

Without a leadership-based culture, individual personalities drive the company instead of a united purpose.

In a leadership-based culture, decision making is easier and more consistent. Leaders always look through the lens of their guiding Vision, Values and Purpose. They easily align every aspect of an employee’s time at work consistently to the same path that everyone is following.

Leaders don’t make exceptions, and if and exception is perceived, it is clearly identifiable and creates empowering teachable moments that help employees continue to learn and be of greater value.

4. Do I execute the same service to my employees as I do with my customers?

Most company’s today tout their commitment to their customers, ensuring employees demonstrate respect, appreciation, listening, and deep care of their fulfillment in every customer interaction.

After all, one negative experience could mean losing a customer. But managers don’t realize that one negative experience can also mean losing an employee.

Can you recall a moment where you just knew you were going to start looking for another job? Usually, the manager never realizes the weight of those moments.

Because managers are focused on deadlines, processes and tasks, it is less natural to treat employees executing those “whats” like people instead of as a means to an end.

Because leaders are always focused on the Vision, Values and Purpose, their next step in upholding these is their people. Leaders value employees’ experience equally with their customers’, unassumingly role modeling how how employees are expected to treat customers without having to micro-manage customer interactions.

5. How many people depend on my leadership skills?

Managers are taught to believe their success is measured by meeting deadlines and deliverables. They don’t have a reason to reflect how others may be impacted by their behavior if the short-term deadline is met.

If an employee’s performance isn’t up to par on a given project, managers more often blame the employee’s perceived lack of competence relevant to that deliverable instead of reflecting on how managing differently could make a difference.

A manager’s primary relationship exists with the success of projects, not the success of people. This is why a manager may not know how many people depend on the quality of his or her leadership skills. 

Leaders also don’t know how many people depend on their leadership skills, but for a completely different reason. 

Like the stock market that responds to what’s happening around the world every minute, while generally revealing a positive or negative long-term trajectory, leaders know that morale is equally responsive and requires a constant commitment to practicing leadership.

Leaders always remember that they aren’t just leading their team so that the company profits. They know that the profits of leadership extend into non-monetary benefits.

Leaders inherently cultivate other leaders. They role model behavior that empowers, engages, and inspires their team, which employees adopt and role model over time.


You can probably picture what it’s like when someone you care about has a bad day at work. How about a bad month? Or year? How does that affect their family? Their family culture? What his or her kids learn and experience?

Conversely, imagine someone you care about coming home feeling empowered, engaged and inspired. Imagine feeling this way for a month? For a year? The family is uplifted. Their kids see the world as an empowering, positive place.

So who depends on your leadership? Your employees. Their families. Their kids. Their kid’s friends. The people your employees someday lead. Their families. Their kids. Strangers you’ll never meet. Baristas, store checkout clerks and customer service representatives you do meet. The future of your company. The future of our world.

Leadership is learned and becomes a lifestyle, practice and a commitment to yourself and others. Like the stock market, every interaction you have creates an uptick or downgrade to your company culture, as well as your family’s culture and your community. 

Leadership creates a positive, lasting and exponential impact. What impact are you making?


What other epic questions do leaders ask themselves? Share your favorites in the comments below!