Managers and leaders

I want to share my thoughts on managers and leaders who can’t or won’t manage and or lead. I’ll explain the effect this can have on people, teams and organisations.

TLDR; Managers and leaders who are unable to manage or lead (for lots of reasons) can break delivery, momentum and morale and therefore render people, teams and entire organisations ineffective.

I recently shared my thoughts on measuring effectiveness and how to measure whether you are or aren’t.

Management and leadership

Many years ago, I said management was good leadership.

Whilst I still believe some of it, my experience has grown over the years to understand the differences between both fundamentally.

I now appreciate what makes good managers and leaders. I know what happens when a manager or leader isn’t effective, myself included.

I now have a deeper thread to my thinking.

They’re different.

Let’s break them down into some specifics, so they’re identifiable.


There are critical aspects for management, too. Some look like those of leadership but are very different. They can focus on people, understand them, support them, develop them and get the most out of them.

To do that, you’re looking to use a set of skills like;

  • motivational
  • effective communication
  • confident
  • problem-solver (in anything that crosses your path)
  • responsible
  • empathy
  • commitment
  • delegation
  • build mutual trust


There are vital aspects like creating an inspiring vision of the future, motivating and inspiring people to engage with it, managing its delivery, coaching, and building a team to be more effective in achieving the vision.

To achieve that, you’re looking to use a set of skills like;

  • compassion
  • empathy
  • confidence (you and your team)
  • off the charts communication skills
  • ability to make tough decisions
  • lead by example
  • clarity
  • ability to foster a diverse and creative culture
  • serve a purpose greater than themselves
  • strategic thinking and decision making

Managers manage, and leaders lead, right?

Managers and leaders sit at various levels within an organisation, from entry-level to CEO and Chairmanship, and titles and positions predicate the expectation that managers manage and leaders lead.

The predication is there, but the reality of life on the ground is very different. There are far fewer managers that manage and leaders that lead.

In my mind, there are a few causes to that happening;

  • an incorrect expectation that ‘everyone’ is a manager/leader based on a rank system
  • moving into a position folks aren’t ready for
  • training, or lack thereof
  • modelled behaviours

You can see how they can intertwine into chaos. It certainly doesn’t set up an individual or an organisation for success.


The person ultimately accountable for the health of their organisation is the person at the very top, the leader of leaders.

They’re accountable for providing a functioning environment to have delivery, momentum and morale.

They decide on the mission and vision, communicate it and delegate accountability to other leaders and managers to move towards it.

They hire the leadership team (sometimes called C-Suite). They set the standards and expectations and ensure they are empowered to do their role.

The functioning environment will happen or not because of them.

They are the example of managers and leaders to the rest of the organisation.

They are accountable.

When the thread breaks

My working assumption is that 80% of people reading this have never had any form of management or leadership training.

Another assumption is that if you’re one of the 80%, it’s likely you’ve not been in a position to either understand the skills needed or been able to put them into practice.

I believe this is where the problem lies, especially in large organisations.

If managers and leaders are ineffective because they either can’t or won’t do management or leadership, it hinders the whole organisation.

In large organisations, this can go unnoticed and can often lead to those with higher expectations leaving to find better managers, leaders and culture elsewhere.

Where do you fit?

It will take some reflection.

You may be an established leader of leaders or a new manager who hasn’t done management before.

You may be in a position where you’re trying to build a functioning environment or effective team, and you can’t seem to make it happen and need support guidance or support, or you’re stuck, you’ve gotten so far, you won’t do anything else, you’re frozen.

As I’ve said, it doesn’t matter what level you are at or where you sit within your organisation. The effectiveness of your management or leadership impacts people and the organisation itself.

But it’s not my fault…

This isn’t about blame. If anything, this article will help you reflect on where you and your organisation are in its journey and hopefully provide a few points and nudges to become better.

Note: blame should not be appointed towards anyone who has not been provided training.

Generally, “I can’t” is more prevalent than “I won’t“, but sometimes “I won’t” is because “I can’t” unless the person has been wholly mismatched with a role and the experience/skills required. Ultimately, their leader or manager’s responsibility is to ensure they’re in the correct position to be effective.

What can you do?

Depending on where you’re at, whether you’re the most accountable person, a leader or a manager, different approaches are taken.

The leader of leaders

You’re held to account by everyone inside and outside of your organisation. That’s what it means to be the leader of leaders.

You must ensure your organisation functions to a high level of effectiveness in the most efficient way possible. Starting with your people, product, processes and everything in-between.

You’re there to make sure those around you are empowered and held accountable for their role. Put everything in place to bring their whole selves to work and be as effective as possible.

For the health of your organisation, ensure the expectations are set for your managers and leaders. Lead by example, show them the way and support the way to get there. Support their development. Some may need experience. Some may require training – make sure this is ingrained in your organisation.

Those that can’t

The biggest “I can’t” is generally down to confidence which usually stems from a lack of experience.

I’ll let you into a secret. Hundreds of thousands of people said “I can’t” as well.

Let me tell you that you can.

You can.

You can.

You can.

Just start.

Here’s a group of management and leadership books that I’ve read, which I know will help you out.

You can get extra support and help by getting a mentor or coach, too. I highly recommend this route.

Ask for some training, either externally or internally.

Now, if “I can’t” stems from your manager/leader stopping you or acting in a way that doesn’t empower you, then you have a big decision to make.

People don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad managers/leaders.

I can’t remember where the saying comes from, and it’s likely just a meme as there are many reasons you should leave a bad job but usually, having a good manager/leader can do wonders.

Depending on where you are in your organisation, there are a few choices;

  • move away from your current manager/leader
  • move into your managers/leaders job
  • leave the organisation

I believe you need to reflect and assess where you are regularly and understand your next move.

Those that won’t

If you know that you won’t, for whatever reason, you need to understand that everything you’re not doing is affecting everyone and everything around you.

The knock-on effects are crippling;

  • low staff retention
  • high staff sickness levels
  • increase in costs due to terrible efficiency
  • low customer feedback scores
  • decrease in sales figures
  • reduced product output

The list could go on and on.

If you don’t realise you’re not managing or leading, then you’ll have to identify other factors which tell the story for you.

Ask people for feedback in a radical candour type of way. Ask if they feel empowered, find out if you’re doing a good job, and they’re effective because of it.

If you know, then you have a baseline. If the picture you’re presented with doesn’t look great, put a plan in to fix it. If it does look good, find a way to keep improving for those in your stead.

It doesn’t matter which level you’re at in your organisation. Every echelon of management and leadership should have reviews and 121s.

Closing comment

In some large organisations, everyone who attains a certain rank or grade is expected to be a manager or leader regardless of their experience.

The organisation’s grade structure says so.

The grade doesn’t make the person a manager or leader.

Training, experience and skills do.