Leadership or management – what’s more important to a growing recruitment business?

Leadership is the ‘in thing’

How many times have you seen images on LinkedIn portraying leaders as the good guys and managers as the villains? Here’s one by Steve Jobs, clearly a supreme business builder and entrepreneur, but this soundbite when taken on its own doesn’t really work.

But if this polarized view is true in the real world, why do people still manage and why not just have everyone use leadership instead? 

It’s these misleading images that prompted this blog. So, what is more important in growing your recruitment business, great management or great leadership? 

Before I answer that question, let me ask you a question that I ask people when discussing management. Which one of these 3 styles of a manager is you / would you see yourself being if you were to become a manager? 

Manage through discussion and debate – you’d discuss with your team or individual to agree on the course of action and give them the feeling of involvement, empowering them and gaining results through buy in. 

Manage through selling and inspiring – you’d enthuse, sell and persuade your team or individual on the action you want them to take so they feel super motivated to carry out the task. 

Manage through instruction – you know the job that needs doing and how to do it, so the best way to get results is simply to tell your team or individual what is expected of them, how to do it and tell them to get on with it. 

So, which one are you? Well, it’s a trick question – a good manager uses all 3 techniques depending on the person you are managing and the task. Plus, if you don’t vary your techniques and consistently use one style, the effectiveness will wear off, and your people will become numb to it.  

Hardly anyone ever picks the last one, manage through instruction, but let me ask you this; if the building was on fire, would you discuss and debate the team getting out, sell the idea of the features and benefits of not dying in a building fire? Or would you simply instruct them to leave now? You will need all these styles at some point if you are to be a good manager. 

The question of which is more important in your business, leadership or management, has the same answer, you need a combination. The key is the balance based on the situation, maturity of your business and if you have people in your business that can help carry out some of this leadership or management for you. Also, the two are certainly not mutually exclusive, good management involves some leadership and to lead well, you will have to involve some management.  

What is leadership?

Again, this is where the images and misleading quotes we see on social media hide what leadership really is. We see leadership as being this ‘hero’ type you’d run through brick walls for.  Well that sounds inspirational but it’s not really leadership. The extremely popular term ‘leading from the front’ reinforces this misconception.  

Leadership is about setting the vision, innovative ideas, growth strategy, looking to the future and setting the culture. Then comes the bit of inspiring the team to follow your ideas, plans and the results of this visionary thinking.  

I have mentioned in recent blogs and podcasts that the need for new social media and web content means populist quotes, images and frankly flawed articles lead to business definitions getting blurred and making the definitions of things like leadership, management, training, coaching, employer branding etc get misunderstood. It can also mean some aspects become out of fashion, like management and training, everyone wants to use he terms leadership and coaching now, but all of these still very much have their place.  I cover coaching and training in my blog on why quality coaching is dying off in the recruitment industry.

It also leads to the view that all these things are very separate but in reality, there’s a lot of grey between things like leadership and management, coaching and training. To grow your team, you will interchange training, coaching, managing and leadership.  The balance will vary but if you ignore any of these completely you won’t perform to your optimum and get the best out of the people in your business. 


With leadership, it seems it’s more common that people now see the definition as inspiring people to follow your direction by your actions, charisma and motivational words. I would not exclude any of these from being part of leadership but what I would say is that you don’t need all of these, plus they contribute only a small part of leadership.  

You can achieve good leadership results in many different ways. For example, you can work with someone more experienced than you to form the leadership content of the company vision, view on the business culture, growth strategy and evolutionary ideas, then use this borrowed plan and deliver it to your team with passion, infectious enthusiasm and work side by side with your team to deliver that strategy. If you employ someone else’s ideas, but they’re winning ideas, you’re the smart one. Theirs will be nothing totally unique in any recruitment company vision, so don’t feel the pressure to invent something ground-breaking – recruitment isn’t the kind of sector you can reinvent.  

You could also work the other way – do all the visionary and strategy work and give it to a charismatic manager who can motivate the team to follow him or her to deliver it. This where an experienced peer or non-exec can help.  It’s easier to see from the outside looking in on how best to use the attributes of you and your team. In my blog on why recruitment needs business coachingI cover how using a business coach or non-exec can massively help the growth of your recruitment business.  

What is management?

Oddly, it seems it is harder to define management that leadership. The reason being is that there are far too many preconceived opinions that managers get results by waving big sticks. But boiled down, it’s the work a manager does with the team that ensures the results of the leadership vision, strategy and targets are followed through.  They are the people that make it happen. Again, referring to the images you see on social media of leadership being good and management being evil, that’s rubbish. You can of course have terrible draconian style managers that bully their staff to carry out process. However, a good manager gets results through a variety of skills. Plus, a good manager will also show some of the characteristics people commonly think of as leadership.  

A good manager will take ownership if any of their team fail and doesn’t shift blame. A good manager will also reflect spotlight of success to their team but in the event of underperformance, they look at themselves first to see what they could and should have done better. Would you think this is more leadership?  Well, it’s a manager using leadership skills! 

Going back to my original question on which style of manager you are, a good manager will know when, with who and how often to use these 3 different management techniques.   

Man management is about understanding your people and how to alter your style to get the most from that individual and not managing with a broad brush.

An example I often use when coaching managers on how to alter styles from person to person is the kick and hug metaphor. Virtually all team members will need a bit of a kick every now and again, but they will also need some appreciation and support from time to time, aka the hug. As a recruiter I personally responded far better to hugs I felt, and I gave 100% so deserved appreciation most of the time, but there were occasions when a kick was warranted. However, if I felt the kick was unwarranted or was kicked too often, I would rebel, and my motivation would nosedive.

An example of the opposite was a recruiter I once employed whose performance would steadily decline every 6 months, and despite the various management tools I’d use, I would eventually have to threaten to sack him to get him to perform again (that’s a kick to the extreme!)  What made it even more frustrating is that the guy would thank me for it once he was hitting target again. Every time I asked why he repeatedly let it get to that level, he said he just didn’t know, but for him the hefty kick was the only action that ever worked.

It’s important I add that man management is a lot more than kicking and hugging – these are merely an example of how different people respond to different management styles and techniques.  

More so than the style of man management, a good manager must have a good grasp of what tools, processes and actions will enable the vision to be carried out. A good manager should give their team member the skills and tools they need for the job, instruction on how to use those skills and tools, how often and when to undertake the activities. If you combine all those, you then simply need to motivate and monitor to keep your team member on track. This is where KPIs are immensely helpful, which I cover in my blog on using success ratios to set KPIs that actually work.

So, which is more important?

Well, I think you probably know the answer by now, you need both, but as your business grows, the balance of how much you employ both will vary. Think of leadership as strategy and management as delivery – you clearly can’t have one work without the other. 

Initially when you have few staff, and no managers working for you, you will have to do both, and you will most likely be generating business yourself at the same time. It’s at this stage the leadership bit will naturally get neglected, but I always explain to growing start-ups that you must do your best each month to make time to work ON your business, not just IN it, so the progression of your company vision and planning doesn’t simply stop. Without question, billing and managing in these early stages matters the most because the business needs money to grow, but if it takes just a couple of hours out of your business once a month to review your vision, that can be all it needs to keep you on track. Once your business is making money, a good leader will use this money to make more money by investing in the company infrastructure, additional staff, staff training, new recruitment tech to help your team be more efficient, and lastly an area I feel gives the best return, quality marketing. I cover this in my podcast https://www.davidsongray.co.uk/podcast/invest-in-marketing/ 

If you do a good job in the initial stages, you will grow team members who can self-manage, which then means you can grow them to manage the team members for you. When you have people that can self-manage, and good team managers, you can then shift the balance to a lot more leadership and work on the company vision and future growth strategies. But it doesn’t mean totally hands off management, because until you have the luxury of a Managing Director, you will still need to manage your managers and manage your business. 

At this point, you can move into a succession planning phase of getting your senior managers/ directors to self-manage, making the job of Managing Director a lot easier so you can then take a step back should you so wish, to little day to day involvement, and even appoint an Managing Director so you really don’t need to be there at all. Creating a business that makes money for itself and doesn’t need your involvement should always be your goal. If a business doesn’t need you, it’s market worth is far greater for any potential sale, plus it allows you to make life choices.  

Final thoughts: Management and leadership

I hope this blog has helped illustrate that for your business to succeed you absolutely need both good management and leadership in your business. For a recruiter, the skills of being a good manager tend to be harder to come by. I know this from personal experience. To be a good manager you need to be consistent, adept at setting and keeping good process, and not getting too distracted away from your team, e.g., chasing fees. So, in practice this means ensuring you team follows process, doing regular one to ones, ongoing KPI reviews to make sure they stay relevant and making time for your people even when you are busy billing. 

I am a natural leader, great with the creative ideas and inspiring others, but my early performance as a manager was frankly terrible! I was the biggest biller in the company and either focused on my own billing or just expected everyone in my team to work exactly the way I did, only ever using the ‘manage through instruction’ style. I did however see the value and necessity of becoming a good manager if I was really going to progress.

So I worked hard at it, upskilled and in time became a lot better. This investment has paid huge dividends as I’ve grown numerous recruitment businesses.  Without doubt I would not have achieved this if I only relied on good leadership skills but poor understanding of what it takes to be a good manager. I recommend all recruitment entrepreneurs use my story and be mindful not to slide into just using leadership skills, because it’s easier and more exciting.  If you really want to grow a high profit team or business, you must understand what a good manager really is and invest in acquiring those skills and attributes and apply them directly or through others. 

Lastly, don’t believe those misleading quotes that paint management the wrong way and mislead you on what leadership is. Here is one quote I do like however, by Stephen Covey, author of the huge bestseller 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  

Rhys Jones

Written by Rhys Jones Managing Director – Davidson Gray

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