Why You Need To Over-Lead And Under-Manage

Why You Need To Over-Lead And Under-Manage

In this guest post, Jason T. Smith (pictured below), founder of the Back In Motion Health Group and author of Outside-in Downside-Up Leadership, offers his tips on what makes a great manager these days. And, he says, it has a lot to do with leading more and managing less…

Physical libraries and online repositories are filled with classic and contemporary theories on management practice. The great tragedy is, management is not the crucial attribute for effective influence. Leadership is. This is more than semantics, but over-leading and under-managing is the surest barometer for impact.

Jason T Smith 2

The Revolution

Be wary of well-intentioned management restructures, cultural programmes, and staff engagement strategies. They only go part of the way to delivering change. If you are to achieve enduring impact, workplaces all over Australia are in desperate need of a leadership revolution. Contrary to the limitations created by bureaucratic structural restraints, one should lead when they are naturally the right person to do so. Few ever are criticised for leading too much, but often we are warned about the perils of micro-managing. The sentiment is simple. Lead more and manage less. The latter is relied upon as a proxy for the former and is a very poor substitute.


The team at Back In Motion, Australasia’s largest network of physiotherapy practices, recognised this. They relentlessly pursued the goal of 7/50/100 – targeting brand presence in 7 states or territories, delivering $50 million in annual client services, and hosting access in 100 locations. They credit an effective doubling of their health group in only 3 years through over-leading, and under-managing.

Organisations who subscribe to this courageous and counter-intuitive approach make a shared commitment to cultural absolutes that energise their peers into a high-performing, self-governing and values-driven team. Over-leading enable colleagues to love what they do, and love who they do it with.

The Holy Grail of Leadership

Over-leading feels dangerous to traditional managers, as one most concede measures of control and autotomy for its benefits to be realised. This enables new creativity, effort and innovation to abound.

True authority and decision making must be distributed throughout the organisation. Leaders empower those in the right position, with the right skills, to make the right decisions. They push the authority as close to the front line of the organisation as possible, while ensuring optimal outcomes. The wonder of agile and nimble strategy reveals hidden opportunities.

All distributed authority must be matched in equal portions with peer accountability – the holy grail of a mature leadership culture. Every person must be willing to give and receive instruction, correction, and encouragement in ways that make upper levels of management and oversight increasingly redundant. The best of me should bring out the best in you, irrespective of our hierarchical positions and titles.


Management is not evil, it just needs to be right-sized in an organisation to prevent suffocation. It should provide order, structure, process and policy – but hands-off as much as possible; and hands-on only when necessary. Under-managing is about being clear: no secrets; no surprises; no politics; no hype; no selfish posturing; and no empty promises. It should promote collaboration with everybody on the team, enabling them to work together for the common good. Light-touch management won’t separate, isolate, fragment, or silo the valuable knowledge, skills, and efforts in the team. It will promote the opposite.

Leadership Metamorphosis

Individuals who slowly rely less on traditional management structures and more on authentic empowerment of those around them, inevitably morph into credible and effective leaders. They choose to listen, communicate, and learn without prejudice. They serve with an open mind. They are comfortable with the free speech of their peers, and make others feel safe in the way they lead. The inevitable result is a leadership revolution that brings new found freedom and opportunity to the organisation.

As Steve Jobs quoted: “Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.”

Those who over-lead and under-manage will facilitate rich and fulfilling experiences for their teams. Over-manage and under-lead, and the consequences will be dull and disabling. And remember, the value isn’t found in the clever semantics; the clever semantics was founded on these undeniable values.

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Jason T. Smith over-lead under-manage

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