For years I’ve studied management and leadership theories. Everyone says basically the same thing. Managers manage and leaders lead. Everyone wants to do the same thing— lead and not manage.

In thinking about this conundrum while talking with an executive client, it occurred to me that good leaders are also good managers. In other words, it’s not a question of either managing or leading; it’s a question of doing both and doing them at the right time. Knowing when to manage and knowing when to lead.

Our job as managers is to make sure our “people” do their jobs. We are told to keep our people doing whatever they do in a productive manner. Make sure they come to work on time, leave on time, and perform efficiently. To some managers this means watching and micro-managing those they supervise. To others it means doing the job themselves to make sure the job gets done correctly. Recently someone said this during one my workshops: “It’s much easier to do it myself,” she said. Good managers don’t do either of those two things. The essence of good management is to teach and release. It takes more time, yes. But, in the long run, it saves time.

The teach and release theory means you adjust your style from management to leadership as needed. Leadership is all about motivating by building confidence. Leadership is all about inspiring. Some leaders think they inspire by neglect. In other words they believe that if they let the person alone, give them no guidance, it inspires learning. Others believe they inspire by holding out carrots. If I give you something, you’ll perform your job the way I want it. Good leadership means taking the time to build confidence and to inspiring through solid communication. Good leadership means letting go when the time is right and lending a helping hand when necessary. Teaching and releasing.

Here’s how good management and good leadership work in tandem in the Teach and Release model:

Stage 1: The Learning Stage. In this phase the person knows nothing about the task. He is new to the task and desires to learn how to do the job. In Stage 1 the manager must manage. The person wants the manager to direct and to show him what to do. What is acceptable behavior? What does a completed task look like? What are the expectations? Close direction means close management.

Stage 2: The Confidence Stage. In this phase the person knows how to do the task but is not yet comfortable with doing it. The person fears she might make a mistake. The manager lets go of the reigns and allows the person to do the task alone. The manager even allows the person to make mistakes. The person learns from the mistakes and builds confidence in doing the task. The manager stays close but not too close. The person feels inspired by her confidence in doing the task and by the manager’s willingness to allow her to learn on her own and to give support when needed. Imagine a child learning to walk. The child gets up and falls down. The parent allows the child to fall but protects the child from falling down a cliff. In Stage 2 the manger becomes that helpful parent.

Stage 3: The Accomplishment Stage. In this phase the person is completing the task with confidence. The manager still signs off on the final completion and tweaks and teaches as he goes. For the most part, however, the person is completing the task successfully without interference from the manager.

Stage 4: The Letting Go Stage. Finally, the manager turns into a leader. To do so means letting go of the task. In Stage 4, the leader tells the person, he no longer needs to review the final result. He tells the person, “I have confidence in you to complete the task successfully.” The leader lets go and the person continues to do the task, not because of pressure or carrots. The person performs the task with excellence because she wants to. That is the essence of motivation—doing something because you want to.

As you can see in looking at the Teach and Release Model, the management and leadership functions run along a continuum. More management exists in the early stages and less in the latter stages where leadership surfaces. Who wants a manager who gives no direction from the get-go? Who wants a leader who micro-manages a task you can do blindfolded?

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Author's Bio: 

Dr. Joan C. Curtis is the author of two books. Her most recent, Managing Sticky Situations at Work: Communication Secrets for Success in the Workplace. She is under contract for a third book: The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media. With over 25 years experience in teaching management and leadership skills, she is an expert in what it takes to communicate effectively. Check out her website at