Technically, a “poor” leader is actually not a “leader”. By definition, a leader must have willing followers. As John Maxwell states, “if you think you’re leading and no one is following, you’re only taking a walk”.
The term leader is used, and abused, in many business, volunteer, education, government and institutional settings. Promoting someone to a senior level does not automatically make them anymore a leader than someone who swims in the ocean becomes a fish.
Someone may have superior technical capabilities and be highly intelligent but lack the critical “human touch”. Without the ability to connect, build trust, and model the behaviours that inspire people to follow, they are at best, a manager. Yes, we absolutely need good managers. Managers can add tremendous value to an organization, but we shouldn’t confuse what they do with leadership.
I know of an Executive Vice President that comes to work, doesn’t greet anyone and makes no eye contact, unlocks his office door, enters and then closes the door only to operate from behind a protective film on the glass wall which ensures no eye contact or connection with employees. Guess who wants to follow him?
Employees will obey the instructions of management as long as they have few, or no, alternative career options. Commitments such as rent, mortgage or car payments force people to keep working. As soon as a better opportunity presents itself in a positive and uplifting environment, they’re typically gone.
It’s my experience that people will often continue to work in challenging and even difficult environments if they work for a leader that is doing everything they can to bring about positive change. If the leader is transparent and candidly shares what can or needs be done to bring about improvement while engaging and welcoming people’s input, employees often dig deep to be part of the solution and bring about the necessary changes.
The difference between a leader and a manager:

  • Employees follow because they want to.
  • Employees share their ideas because they trust you and know you won’t take credit for what they suggest or have done.
  • Creates an environment where people want to work because of the energy, creativity and inspiration in the work place.
  • Is seen interacting with employees and taking an interest in them as a person beyond what they do at work.


  • Employees follow because they have to.
  • Employees don’t share or contribute their ideas because they don’t trust you and fear you’ll take credit for their suggestion.
  • Creates a setting where production and output are the ultimate goal.
  • Takes an interest in employees only to learn about their strengths and talents so tasks can be assigned and work delegated to maximize efficiency and meet utilization and production targets.

It’s your actions, not your words that define you as a leader.