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Putting on the Right Hat

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Thought Leadership

Putting on the Right Hat

Are you a manager, a leader or a boss? The answer may not be as obvious as you think.


By Brian Gottlieb March 13, 2023
Brian Gottlieb
Brian Gottlieb

Much has been said about the difference between a manager and a leader, and those insights are important. But now I want to add a third leg to that stool and talk about being a boss. A boss is neither a manager or a leader, instead it’s a category unto itself, and one that you do not want to belong to. Below is how I define each role and a quick, easy way to see which hat you should wear in any given situation.

What Is A Manager?

A manager is responsible for the day-to-day complexities inside of an organization. They ensure that systems and processes are being followed, which is important. Are we scheduling projects properly? Is information being entered into the CRM? Does everyone have their KPIs in order? Are performance reviews being done? All that is under the purview of a manager. 

What Is A Boss?

A boss is like command and control. He or she uses a very hierarchical leadership structure. A boss will say, “Increase productivity by 15%, and let me know when it's done.” Or, “We have the following new policies, and I'm going to tell you what will happen if they're not adhered to.”

This type of structure often causes a bottleneck because nobody can make decisions without the boss saying it's okay. It’s an approach that stunts growth, kills culture, and creates turnover because people feel disenfranchised and unmotivated. 

What is A Leader?

The role of a leader is to drive change in the organization. Managers examine previous performance, leaders influence future performance.

So, a manager might be looking at inventory: do we have the right amount? Are the trucks stocked properly? That kind of stuff is important to business. A leader, on the other hand, might work with the team to create a new, more effective process for all of the trucks. When strategizing a new system, you want to bring in the people that are closest to the business and get them involved. A leader gathers his or her team and says, “Here's the challenge, we want to increase productivity. What are some ideas?”

Wearing the Right Hat

When you look at the relationship between manager and leader, you realize that a people often wear both hats at different times. Ensuring that performance reviews are conducted on time is a management function. Actually conducting those reviews is leadership. Often, the same person completes both tasks. 

Leadership is about building consensus, participation, and involvement. But the the levers of control in the organization are the KPIs and the other things that are required for management. Those things are crucial because if everyone is empowered, your team becomes a runaway train with no brakes. Empowerment is important, but you also need some levers of control.

Small businesses frequently have leaders who are working both in the business and on the business. But even in those organizations, the leader should always want to work more on the business. Often, they’re constantly putting out fires when what they need is to be a firestarter in the best sense of the word. They need to ignite the potential in others instead of constantly moving from crisis to crisis.

Four Quadrants

Below is a great FourSquare that I like to use called the Urgent-Important Matrix. It’s a helpful way to look at different roles and the tasks they require. I’ll give some examples of the kind of thing that could appear in each quadrant. 

Urgent important matrix

  • Not Urgent/Not Important (bottom right). This would include tasks that don’t move you toward your goals such as playing video games or shopping online.
  •  Urgent/Not Important (bottom left). These tasks have a degree of time sensitivity, but also do not contribute to long-term success. Maybe it’s busy work, or attending a meeting that doesn’t really require your presence. When possible, it’s best to delegate the items in this quadrant.
  •  Urgent/ Important (top left). This is firefighting. This is, “A big problem came up and the client is furious.” It needs to be handled right away. 

The time you spend in these three quadrants will not help your grow your business. Only the fourth quadrant can do that. 

  • Not Urgent/Important (top right). This is where you find the root cause of the angry client and work on changing it. Is there a process that needs improvement? Are there people who need coaching? These are tasks that may not have an clear deadline, but will improve the dynamics of the business. It’s how you, and everyone around you, become better. 

Throughout the day, while you’re engaged in a task, it’s helpful to take a step back and ask yourself, “Which quadrant am in in right now?” One of the qualities of a good leader is someone who can identify those four quadrants and live in the Not Urgent/Important space as much as possible. A big part of that is teaching your team to shelve the things that are Urgent but Not Important and move the Urgent/Important ones down to the people who are closest to the business. They're the ones that should be empowered to solve it, and coached to use the organization’s mission, vision and values as the tools to make decisions. 


written by

Brian Gottlieb

Brian Gottlieb is the founder of Tundraland Home Improvements and current CEO of Renewal by Andersen of Greater Wisconsin. 


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