I've had the pleasure of being on the ground floor of several successful technology startups, including the BusinessWatch Network. Having read Richard Branson's recent post, “What Does It Take to Be the Boss? Managers vs. Leaders” I'd like to suggest that determining whether you’re a "Manager" or a "Leader" is a matter of degrees. All good Managers must at some point Lead, and all good Leaders must at some point Manage. Even Steve Jobs, clearly a "Leader" from the very beginning of his career, evolved into a better "Manager" towards the end of it. (See my previous post, Steve Jobs Management Style: The Lessons I've Learned)
Here is an example that you can apply to gain insight into whether you're leading your team, or managing them:
I attended two Client Summit Conferences (Demandbase and StrongView) in San Francisco this year only to have Hall of Fame Quarterback (and professional investor at HGGC), Steve Young speak at both events. He tells the story of how his first 3 years in the NFL, every time he threw an interception, he'd unsnap his helmet, walk to the sidelines and all the coaches would start yelling at him, "What happened out there Steve?” The first three years his answers were things like, "The guy ran the wrong route,” or, “The offensive line blocked me out,” or, “The ball was wet.” Whatever seemed to have contributed to the interception (including "The sun was in my eyes") was on the table. Steve said he would come back to the sidelines after the pick - and look at his offensive players, heads-down, slumping on the bench.
He noticed that it always seemed like the next series of downs after an interception was 3 and out. He needed to change things. Finally, in his 3rd year he'd had enough. He threw an interception and when the coaches yelled out, “Hey Steve what happened out there?," he replied:
"I threw a lousy pass. Bad ball. That was my fault.” He looked down the bench at his offensive players with their eyes up, focused on the field. Once they got the ball back - I forget the career statistic he gave about how many times following an interception, his team scored on the next series – but it was very high. You see, when he took responsibility for the interception, the effect on his team was to pick-him-up and dig-themselves-out. That’s why leaders always take responsibility for what happened first. The rest takes care of itself.