I frequently hear from service business owners and recently one was talking to me about how he runs his business. He summarized his activities by saying: “I manage my employees.” I stopped him right there and told him point-blank: “You’re doing it wrong.” You should have seen the look on his face.

If “managing employees” describes what you do in your business, you need to read this article immediately because managing employees is the fastest way to kill your business and the fastest way for you to burn out in the process. It also doesn’t serve the people who work for you.

If you think of yourself as a manager of employees, you see your employees as a group of people who need to be herded, prodded, cajoled, and convinced to do their work. Their pay is like a bribe. And your work as a manager is all about giving them instruction and telling them what they should and should not do. I would describe the mindset of managing employees as a lot like babysitting children. Yes you get some work done but at the end of the day you don’t end up with their respect and loyalty.

Here’s where I shatter misconceptions and replace them with a better practice: Instead of managing employees, you should be leading a team.

A leader sets the vision and inspires his team to join him on the journey. A leader provides a framework in which his team should operate (but leaves some leeway for individuality and appropriate interpretation). A leader gives direction (not instruction) about expectations and parameters. A leader serves his team and, in turn, they serve the leader by serving the customers. A leader rewards his team for their hard work. There is mutual respect. The leader helps his team see themselves as an integral part of the company and, in turn, they are more loyal.

Can you see the difference between managing employees and leading a team?

  • Managers push. And their employees are herded and prodded forward.
  • Leaders inspire. And their team gets in step and moves forward because they are inspired.

I like how Zig Ziglar paraphrased E.M. Kelly when he gave this quote: “A manager says, ‘go.’ A leader says, ‘let’s go.’” That is a powerful and compelling explanation of the difference between a manager and a leader. And it makes me want to be a leader (and that kind of leadership attracts great team members).

So if you are managing your employees, stop. It’s an impossible and work-intensive treadmill that will just burn you out. But if you really want to do amazing things in your business then lead your team.

I talk about this and other powerful leadership strategies in my book Secrets of Leadership Mastery.