ue bot icon

Balancing Leadership and Management as a Small Business Owner

June 10, 2024

As a small business owner, you assume multiple responsibilities. You’re responsible for setting the vision, inspiring your team, and driving change, all while managing day-to-day operations, resources, and people. Understanding the difference between leadership and management is crucial for effectively balancing these roles and taking your organization to the next level.

Defining Leadership and Management

Although people often use leadership and management interchangeably, they serve distinct purposes. Leadership is about setting a vision, inspiring people, and driving change. It’s about creating a future that others want to be a part of. Management, on the other hand, focuses on implementing that vision by organizing resources, processes, and people to achieve specific goals.

Arthur E. Morgan captures the balance of leadership and management perfectly:

“He (She) is the best leader who most fully understands the nature of things, so that his (her) plans are not doomed to ultimate failure; who possesses an active, far-ranging imagination which can see many possibilities; who has a sense of values, so that among possibilities he (she) is able to choose the most excellent; who has a sense of order, to give form, design, and program to the values and purposes he (she) selects; who has practical sense and judgment and so uses the most feasible means to accomplish his (her) ends; and who has the energy and enthusiasm to carry his (her) plans persistently toward fruition.”

Key Competencies

Effective leaders possess skills that inspire faith, listen effectively, think strategically, and take risks. They are visionaries who align people with their ideas and motivate them to overcome obstacles. In contrast, effective managers excel in planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem-solving. They establish consistency and predictability, guaranteeing the achievement of short-term results.

The Role of Leadership

Leadership is about establishing a vision and direction, as well as aligning and inspiring people to achieve that vision. Leaders are visionaries who develop compelling strategies for the future and communicate them effectively. They focus on the bigger picture, challenge the status quo, and take risks to create new opportunities. The key aspects of leadership include:

  • Setting Direction: Leaders establish a clear vision for the future and develop strategies to achieve it.
  • Aligning People: Leaders communicate the vision effectively and create teams and coalitions that understand and accept it.
  • Motivating and Inspiring: Leaders energize people to overcome obstacles and satisfy their basic, often unfulfilled needs.
  • Driving Change: Leaders challenge the status quo and take risks in order to create new opportunities and drive the organization forward.

Leaders have a more strategic, long-term orientation and are comfortable with ambiguity and complexity. They inspire trust and loyalty by connecting with people emotionally and intellectually, fostering a sense of purpose and meaning in their teams.

The Role of Management

Management primarily focuses on maintaining order, stability, and efficiency within an organization. To achieve desired results, managers must plan and budget, set detailed steps and timetables, and allocate resources. They also organize and direct staff by establishing structures, delegating responsibilities, and providing policies and procedures to guide people. Managers also control and solve problems by monitoring results, identifying deviations, and implementing solutions to keep things on track. John Kotter asserts that the objective of management is to achieve predictability and consistency, thereby meeting short-term objectives and fulfilling stakeholder expectations.

Actions for High-Value Management

Florence M. Stone and Randi Toler Sachs, in their book “The High-Value Manager,” emphasize that management involves fostering a sense of empowerment, providing a learning environment, and staying current and flexible. It’s about making the corporate vision and values a reality through effective execution. Key actions for high-value management include:

  • Empowering Employees: Foster a sense of ownership and responsibility.
  • Ensuring Continuous Learning Opportunities: Invest in training and development.
  • Translating Corporate Values into Actionable Goals: Ensure everyone understands and works towards common objectives.
  • Adapting Flexibly to Changing Circumstances: Stay agile and ready to pivot as needed.
  • Practicing Preventive Management: Anticipate issues before they arise and proactively mitigate them.

These actions highlight the significance of a proactive and adaptive management strategy that is in line with the leadership’s broader vision.

Differentiating Leaders and Managers

The late Warren Bennis famously highlights the key differences between leaders and managers in his book On Becoming a Leader:

  • Leaders innovate; managers administer.
  • Leaders focus on people; managers focus on systems and structure.
  • Leaders inspire trust; managers rely on control.
  • Leaders have a long-range perspective; managers have a short-range view.
  • Leaders challenge the status quo; managers accept it.
  • Leaders do the right thing; managers do things right.

In his book A Force for Change, John Kotter also emphasizes these differences, noting that management produces predictability and order, while leadership produces change and has the potential to produce extremely useful transformations.


As a small business owner, balancing leadership and management is essential for driving your company forward. By understanding the key differences between these roles and developing the necessary skills, you can create a compelling vision, inspire your team, and effectively execute your strategy.  And, remember that effective management is crucial for translating your vision into reality, so don’t neglect the importance of planning, directing, organizing, coordinating, and controlling.

Business leadership is not a destination but a journey. Embrace the challenges, learn from your experiences, and continuously strive to become a better leader. Seek mentorship, attend workshops and seminars, and surround yourself with a network of inspiring leaders who can support and guide you along the way.