Some people are good managers, even great managers, but they aren’t good leaders.  Why?  Because management is about things and leadership is about people.  Management is organizing and directing systems, processes and workflow.  Management is tracking information, analyzing results and meeting technical challenges.  Many people in management jobs perform the technical aspects of their jobs well.  They’re experts in their field. They have a storehouse of knowledge and expertise that they apply daily in a constant battle to get results.

And it IS a battle for them.

One that they feel they’re fighting alone. One they think they’re losing. What do they need?

They need people.

They need people who know what needs to be done, are capable of doing it and willingly take action to get desired end results. What do they have?  They have direct reports. They have employees. They have peers and co-workers. And too often these human beings are, in the manager’s eyes, the REAL problem. THEY are blocking the pathway to meeting goals and achieving results when they could be clearing the road!  THEY don’t follow-up, follow-through or take initiative to get things done.  THEY don’t take action even when they’re told what to do. Told exactly what to do.

Which is what a manager does – tells people what to do, how to do it and when to get it done.

So, from the manager’s perspective, he or she is doing their job but those other people are not doing theirs.

What’s missing?

Why do some managers seem to get more done, more easily?

Why do some managers have people across the organization supporting the work and getting results? What’s the key ingredient that allows managers to build remarkable organizations – outstanding departments, divisions or whole companies? Organizations that not only achieve business goals of market-share and revenue but also produce qualitative results like satisfied customers and a great reputation in the community. Organizations where the employees like their jobs and are highly motivated to do them well.  What enables certain managers to get results that are head and shoulders above the competition? Even when those managers aren’t as technically astute as a less-successful counterpart?

It’s leadership. The missing ingredient is leadership.

I’ve never met a truly great manager who wasn’t also a good leader. Never.  Because in this world, you need people who are willing to work with you if you want to get things done.  And telling people what to do, how to do it and when to have it “on your desk” does not create willingness.  Just because I have the ability to do something well doesn’t mean that I will do it – well or at all!  Willingness comes from motivation.  In any work situation, I may or may not be motivated to do what I have been told to do.  If I feel threatened, I may do it well enough not to get fired…which isn’t likely to lead to excellence in results – is it?

Managers complain that the only way they can get something done, and done right, is to “do it myself”.

That’s a sure sign that of a leadership gap. And a sign that, unless that manager learns how to bridge that gap – he or she will burn out.  In our complex, fast-paced, chaotic work environment today, anyone who is trying to “do it all” can’t keep pace. Running as fast as you can, alone, will not win the race.  We are definitely in a world where the name of the game is collaboration. A relay race with multiple hand-offs that must be smooth, seamless and coordinated – like a ballet or interactive juggling!  Otherwise, it’s a mess. A mess that often gets dumped on the customer (whether it’s an external customer or an internal customer) who then has an experience of that organization which leads to more problems, poor results and bottom-line losses.


It takes great leadership to build a great organization – a great company, division or department must be well-managed, of course, but it must also be well-led.  In an economic downturn, a company can cut staff to meet budget, without considering other options, and that’s management.  Slash expenses is management. When a company looks for creative ways to meet budget through adding more value, trimming unnecessary expenses thoughtfully and creating flexible work options to reduce overall salary expenses – that’s leadership. What good leaders understand is they need good followers. They need people who want to follow them and to do what needs to be done to make that organization great. Good followers are also leaders. And good followers are created when leaders value people, care about them and appreciate them.

Think about it: when customers buy a company’s products and services repeatedly, tell their friends how great those products are or rave about how well they were treated by the employees – aren’t those customers being good followers?  Aren’t they doing what the leaders of that company want them to do?  Well, how does that happen?  It happens because people in the company – both those front-line people who have face-to-face interactions with external customers and those behind the scenes supporting the front-line employees – were also good followers!  They understood organizational goals and targets. They solved problems on their own initiative and did the work that needed to be done. They went above and beyond the basic requirements of their jobs on a regular basis. They not only did what they’d been told to do – they did more. You know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a “not my job” mentality when you’re dealing with a person in a customer service role, right?  And you know how awesome it is to have someone deal with you as a human being!  To have someone in a company treat with you as a customer with respect, solve your problem and be cheerful about it.  What a world of difference.  Great organizations are full of people who are making that world of difference happen for each other, as well as for the ultimate customer or client.

If you’re a good manager who wants to be a leader, what do you need to understand?

What do you need to be able to do more of and do better?

Fortunately, the answer is simple. It may or may not be easy to deliver, but it is simple. Good leaders recognize that people have five basic human needs. They make sure they meet those needs in their interactions – their relationships with people are grounded in meeting those needs. These needs apply both to employees and to customers.

The five basic human needs are:

  1. Competence and Mastery: We need to feel capable. We need to feel that we have power and control over our lives. We need to know that we can achieve the results we want because we have talents, abilities and resources.
  2. Affiliation and Belonging: We are social creatures by nature. We need to know where we fit in the world. We want to connect with others who share our values and interests.
  3. Freedom and Autonomy: We need to have choices. We need to make our own decisions about those things that matter to us.
  4. Fun and Enjoyment: We need to enjoy life. We need recreation, entertainment and pleasure.
  5. Survival: We need the essentials for life – food, water, shelter, clothing.

The true art of leadership is in the understanding that, although these five basic human needs are the same for all of us, each of us is unique in how we want them to be met and which ones are priorities at any given time.

We can make generalizations about how to reach out to a group of people by meeting certain needs we recognize as priorities for them (offering a product or service to people who value the freedom of wireless technology, for example, or creating an exclusive members-only club to satisfy a need for belonging) but great leaders know that they must also work at meeting the unique individual needs of their followers in direct 1:1 interactions – whether those followers are customers or employees.

To make this clearer, let’s look at a couple of examples of Competence and Mastery in the workplace.

Where managers often fail at leadership is when their focus becomes so task oriented that they lose sight of the people who are involved in those tasks.  I’ve seen managers belittle people who work with them or for them – sometimes as a “joke” that is pointed at what the manager sees as a flaw or shortcoming and other times in great seriousness out of frustration over lack of results – even berating them in a public setting. What does that do to the person’s sense of competence and mastery?  Do you want to work for someone who doesn’t respect your opinions?  Who doesn’t see you as adding value to the work?  Most of us don’t, which is why people quit and leave – or even worse, why they often “quit and stay”!

I’ve also seen good managers completely overlook the need to train and coach people when there are new systems, assignments and tasks. The assumption that people will “figure it out” may hold true over time but they fail to recognize the impact that has on people. They fail to see that the constant complaining about the workload and griping about organizational changes is coming from people’s need to feel competent – a need that could be better met with support from the organization.

And what happens when organizations make changes without considering the impact on the customer?

Take outsourcing customer service, along with technological enhancements that make it better for the company, at the expense of customer-ease and convenience (cheaper, easier to direct call flow, enhanced call-tracking, etc.), for example.  How many people resent having to jump through a long series of hoops to get to a real person for customer service (or not ever being able to get to a real person)? How many jump ship because they had problems with a product or service and the company couldn’t get it resolved?  Our frustration in those situations is because the incompetence or lack of caring we see on the part of the people in the organization doesn’t meet our needs – we feel powerless, we feel alienated, we feel like we don’t have any good choices, we feel a distinct lack of enjoyment!  We are experiencing a lack of satisfaction in those five basic human needs. And we tell others about our experience of that company…again and again.

These examples show why good leaders do everything possible to ensure that people feel valued by encouraging a sense of competence and mastery.

  • They give workers genuine feedback about what they do well and what needs to be done better.
  • They provide training, coaching and job support – not just to new employees but to all employees.
  • They make sure that customers are treated with respect.
  • Changes in systems and process are viewed from the perspective of customer impact as well as benefits to the internal workings of the organization.
  • They make it easy for customers to get help and resolve problems.

This isn’t about being “nice” or “liked”. It’s about building the brand, capturing market-share and generating revenue by meeting the needs of your customers and your employees.

Look around you – you’ll see that leaders in their industry are always companies able to meet needs better than their competition.  In some cases, like Federal Express, Amazon and Facebook– they saw unmet needs and built companies around it!


The leadership failure on the part of a manager – any failure to see the impact of decisions and choices on people – is also an opportunity.  It’s an opportunity to recognize the leadership gap and to fill it.  A manager who has a strong desire and a willingness to change both thinking and behavior can become a good leader. It may not come naturally, and it will take time and effort, but it can be done.  The first step is to recognize that, if you don’t have the results that you want from the people in your environment, whether those people are employees or customers, you have a leadership gap. Which means that you also have an opportunity to bridge that gap and get new results.

The first step is to look at your situation using the lens of the five basic human needs.

  • How are they being met?
  • In what ways could they be better met?
  • What’s missing?

To do this, gather data from your employees and your customers. Get feedback about your own leadership style and, if you have managers or supervisors reporting to you, theirs too.  The size and scope of this undertaking will, of course, be determined by the nature of the problems that you see and want to solve.

It often helps to get an outsider’s perspective.  We can be so close to the situation that we don’t see the obvious – or the subtle.  An investment in tools and resources that provide quality feedback, fresh approaches, new ways of thinking and a clear focus on the right leverage points for effecting real change is more cost-effective than spinning your wheels because you can’t see what’s right there in front of you.

When it comes to leadership – we are often our own worst enemies! 

We don’t see ourselves as others experience us. But, when we have the right feedback and gain insights into the counter-productive impact of our behavior on others – as well as what we do that’s constructive and beneficial to results – then we have what we need to make a positive difference in our world.

It all begins with the recognition that our society places a high value on task-oriented behaviors and people move up in organizations on the basis of their technical ability to get results. This is right and good!  At a certain point, however, there’s a shift. Suddenly, there’s a need to engage with people as a leader or the work doesn’t get done and the results that we want don’t materialize. The most important thing that we can do at that point is to realize that we need to develop our leadership skills.

Is it time for you?  Is it time for your organization?  Act now!  That’s leadership.

Author’s Note:  I gratefully acknowledge the contribution of Dr. William Glasser to my work.  Dr. Glasser’s reality therapy and choice theory shaped my thinking about leadership effectiveness and coaching for success. His views on how to work with our basic human needs to build quality relationships, quality organizations and a quality life have made a difference for many people all over the world.  Thank you, Dr. Glasser.

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