The Tension Between Leading and Managing

I’m a leader by nature.  I love to try to create something out of nothing, take the 30,000 foot view and dream about the future.  I’m also very fortunate to have some very gifted and talented people around me.  One of the people on our leadership team is an exceptional manager (and a leader in her own right).  We get a long incredibly well except that we would sense a tension that arose from time to time in meetings.

When I would dream out loud, she would try to figure out how much it would cost, who would follow up and how it would fit into our strategic plan.  Sometimes that was welcome.  Often it bugged me.

At other times we’d be in a meeting and she would be so hyper focused on follow through, logistics and next steps that I would feel suffocated.  I felt like I need to get out of the room and get some air.

When we drilled down on it I learned she felt the same way for opposite reasons:  it was my dreaming that bothered her.  If she didn’t see practical or immediate value in it, and couldn’t reign me in, she would feel like she needed to leave the room to get some air or have a conversation with someone who had more practical bones in his body.

Then we consulted a corporate coach who helped us see that both approaches were absolutely indispensable to the growth of our ministry.  We need dreamers..and dreamers need room to dream.  And we need people who excel at execution like she does. And they need to plot next steps because otherwise, dreams remain just that….dreams.

It sounds so simple but sometimes you can be in the same room and just miss it.

Since someone named the value in both of our approaches we’ve been able to have more productive meetings, an even better working relationship and an even deeper appreciation for what we both bring to the table as leaders.

Questions:  Leaders…what do you need to do to better value great managers around you?  Managers, what do you need to do to affirm the leaders and dreamers around you?


  1. Jeremy Postal on February 2, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    One of things that I’ve learned, often working at that 30,000 foot level, is that I need to slow down long enough to listen and hear details. This often empowers the productivity minded people and, as a real positive off-shoot, has offered me some valuable lessons in building a plan, working a plan.
    Great post!

  2. Scott Cochrane on January 21, 2011 at 10:52 am

    That ‘tension’ is a moving target, isn’t it! Those of us who more naturally lean in to leading can often tell when the management piece has been ignored too long. (‘Hey, everyone’s inspired, but no one’s on the plan!’). As you’ve noted, too much time on management sees great operational ‘wins’, but you can feel the vision draining away.

    Thanks for the reminder to pay attention to this tension.

    • Carey on January 21, 2011 at 11:49 am

      Scott…so true. Both are needed, and both are resisted.

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