You don’t need to call them team leaders if you don’t expect them to lead.

Language is important. The way we name something can make or break our understanding. There are many examples in the gardening world of plants that have been given names without any relationship to them. This can be confusing for novice gardeners. Pineapples, for example, are not related to apples or pines. Peanuts, on the other hand, are not a nut. Primoses, however, aren’t roses. The same thing happens in the workplace, when people are called team leaders but they are actually team managers. This practice is unacceptable to me.

I like the title team leader, and wish there were more. Too many organizations give people the job title of team leader but expect them to only manage, or worse, let them manage when they want to.

When working with clients, the most common job titles that I hear are manager, supervisor, leader, and team leader. They are called frontline leaders. This term refers to a particular type of person. This refers to someone who leads a team and not just manages it. I explain the difference between the two terms based on my belief that a great leader is similar to a great gardener.


They can keep their plants alive, but they don’t seem to be able get them to produce flowers or fruits. They are competent, but not exceptional gardeners. They are competent in some aspects of gardening, but not enough to be successful every time. Managers Arif Bhalwani will find their teams perform well, but they are not proud of it. They may leave their team with untapped potential that is waiting to be unleashed. This is like a seed waiting to germinate, but it needs the right conditions. Their team appears to be performing well, but they could be doing more.


They know how to make plants look great and produce high-quality results. Some gardeners are able to develop new varieties and find innovative ways to overcome the challenges presented by their environment. They are someone gardeners can turn to for help and inspiration. Leaders understand what it takes for each member of their team to reach their full potential. They see the oak tree in the acorn. They offer the right mix of encouragement, feedback, and support to enable their team members to maximise their strengths. They are the one that people turn to for guidance and inspiration. Because everyone wants to work with them, they are easy to attract.

What do you call the people in charge of your workers and frontline staff? If they are team leaders, and actually lead, then that’s great. If you expect them to only manage, they may not be able to see the point. They will think they are a leader but they are actually a manager. Your development program is the key. It is important to know if the program is intended to teach leadership skills or management skills. Management is essential. I don’t think management is being played lightly. I’m just trying to make the point that if you confuse the terms, you are confusing people in these roles and limiting the growth potential of your organization.

To help you move your people from managing and leading, take my Frontline Leadership Development Inventory to learn how I can improve your development program. I have a 40-point checklist that will help you to grow more leaders.

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