Ask the Expert: “How can I be a better leader?”

To improve your leadership qualities, you first you need to understand the difference between being a leader and being a manager (note: this has nothing to do with your job title!). Business Expert Neil Ducoff explains what it takes to stand at the helm and lead the way!

ND: When I was a young man starting out on my first job, I thought to myself, “I want to be the manager.” I was always fascinated with business and what made it work. I love the energy that comes from a team of people working together and believed that I had the ability to “manage” a team. From the beginning, I worked closely with the manager to learn everything I could about being a “manager.” I learned about handling money, scheduling for productivity, setting goals, inventory control, filling out reports, performance evaluations and keeping everyone on task.

Holy crap…I wasn’t learning how to be a leader, I was learning how to become a business “maintenance” man! I mean no disrespect to managers, nor am I suggesting that managers do not lead people. My point is that the primary role of a manager is to ensure the successful operation of a business or department and to make sure that the work gets done. But the role of leader extends far beyond the role of manager.


What Makes a Leader

  • Leaders set and protect the vision: A manager adheres to and supports the company’s vision. A leader creates and tenaciously enhances the company’s vision. Leaders chase the dream and the achievement of that elusive next level. Leaders look beyond tomorrow and see the possibilities. Managers maintain and focus on the work that needs to be done today and tomorrow. Leaders and managers can both get stuck in manager mode.
  • Leaders are culture builders: Culture is the collective outcome of a company’s thinking and behavior. Culture is the energy that drives excellence as much as it drives the achievement of goals. Managers that are focused on systems, numbers and accountability may get the work done, but it’s the company’s culture that gives life and meaning to doing the work. Managers that are all about driving numbers, hitting goal and consequences may look good on paper  but their cultures may be toxic, indifferent and change resistant. Leaders bring meaning to the work. Leaders create unity. Leaders create cultures that want to win.
  • Leaders are coaches: If the leader’s role is to create a dynamic and empowered culture, then the leader’s role is to be a coach – to bring out the full potential of individuals and teams. Coaching is about incremental improvement. Coaching is about helping individuals and teams achieve breakthroughs in performance. Coaches can be tough. Coaches can be demanding. But coaches must always be passionate and respectful when bringing out the best in people. Leaders that coach inspire those they lead. Managers push for results. Do you want lead and inspire as a coach or demand, dictate and supervise like a manager?
  • Leaders find a way: Challenges and problems are part of doing business. Setbacks will occur. A crisis will sneak up and make a surprise attack on your company. Managers will depend on the tools in their toolbox to fend off the attack, even when those tools lack the strength and horsepower necessary to be effective. Leaders are creative and flexible. Leaders seek out viable options. Leaders work through their fears to inspire confidence when times get tough. Leaders tap into the human spirit. Managers keep pushing through even when the body count keeps rising. Leaders see and believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel.ISMS_DecW4-04

Who is Neil Ducoff?

Neil Ducoff is the founder and CEO of Strategies. Since 1993, Strategies has been transforming salon and spa businesses into dynamic, profitable, and sustainable team-based cultures. Neil is a business trainer, coach, keynote speaker and award-winning author. For more information on Neil and Strategies, go to You can email Neil at