Are you a leader or a manager?

dvm360dvm360 March 2021
Volume 53

Generally speaking, managers work in a veterinary practice, while leaders work on the practice. Which role you play depends on how you spend your time.

Mix and Match Studio /

Mix and Match Studio /

Many managers think they are leaders, and many leaders think they are managers, but often they are not. Understanding what is expected of both roles can help you understand whether you are a manager, a leader, or both. To help determine which role you fill, let’s first define the difference.

In a 2013 Harvard Business Review article that still holds true today, Vineet Nayar identified 3 questions that will help you decide whether you are managing people or leading people1:

  • Are you counting value or creating value?
  • Do you have circles of influence or circles of power?
  • Do you lead people or manage work?

Counting value vs creating value

According to leadership expert Warren Benis, managers keep their eye on the bottom line (counting value), whereas leaders have their eyes on the horizon (creating value).2 In the veterinary profession, managers are classically focused on the numbers and keeping the ship on target to accomplish the numbers. A true leader in the veterinary practice sets the direction and defines the mission, vision, and values for the practice and lets the manager do what is needed to accomplish that vision. In most cases, the leader is the captain of the ship and the manager chooses the crew and navigates the ship.

Circles of influence vs circles of power

In a typical business environment, managers have subordinates who perform tasks for them while leaders have followers. Managers exert their authority over the so-called circle of power. Leaders coach others in the circle of influence. Managers have people who look up to them that are employed to accomplish specific goals or tasks. Leaders influence, motivate, and support their followers to accomplish a greater vision.

Leading people vs managing work

This question supports the classic definition that managers make sure the work is done right while leaders make sure the right work is done. A manager’s job is to put their team in the best position to succeed by giving them the resources, training, coaxing, and cajoling necessary to attain goals. It is the leader’s job to motivate, engage, and inspire people to convert the work into a dream.

Table 1.

Table 1.

Areas of overlap

There are several areas where leaders and managers overlap to the benefit of the practice:

  • Honesty and integrity: These traits are crucial to get your team to believe you and buy in to the journey you are taking them on.
  • Inspiration: Inspire your team to be all they can by making sure they understand their role in the bigger picture.
  • Ability to challenge: Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo, do things differently, and think outside the box.
  • Communication: Keep your team informed throughout the journey, including where you are, where you are heading, and any roadblocks you may encounter along the way.

Although it is difficult, it is possible to be both a leader and a manager. As a manager, you will find yourself focusing on the tasks that you need to get done. As a leader, you have to stop focusing on the actual tasks and focus on the vision, the mission, and the values that will lead you to your desired outcome.

The bottom line

In a successful small business, there is an entrepreneur (leader), a manager, and a technician, and in some businesses they are the same person. The entrepreneur has the vision for the practice and what it will look like at its peak performance. The manager makes sure all the work is done that is needed to accomplish the entrepreneur’s vision. And the technician does the work. Busy businesses are so busy doing the technical work of getting through the day that the manager and entrepreneur spend very little time actually getting anything done. In the optimal veterinary practice, all 3 roles are working concurrently.

Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA, is executive director of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, co-author of The E-Myth Veterinarian with Michael Gerber, and a veterinary coach at


  1. Nayar V. Three differences between managers and leaders. Harvard Business Review. August 2, 2013. Accessed February 6, 2021.
  2. Giang V. 3 Things that separate leaders from managers. Business Insider. September 11, 2012. Accessed February 6, 2021.
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