How to Become an Unfireable Manager

If you’re like me, you grew up idolizing Elon Musk and Steve Jobs for the phenomenal impact they’ve made as entrepreneurs and technological innovators. But when we think about these legacy’s, we often forget their path to success wasn’t linear.

They hit a lot of failures along the way, including getting fired from their management positions.

Steve Jobs was famously fired from Apple, and Elon Musk was removed as CEO from one of his first companies,, before it became PayPal. Although Steve and Elon were great leaders, they lacked the management skills required to do their jobs effectively.

So, what’s the secret to becoming a manager who is impossible to fire? Aligning your leadership and management skills to be in perfect harmony.

The Difference Between Management and Leadership Skills

It’s a misconception management and leadership skills are the same.

Management skills include organizing resources and setting the agenda for a team. It requires reviewing budgets, timelines, and being obsessed with project planning.

Leadership skills include direction-setting, then empowering your team to set their own ambitious goals. Leaders are concerned with creating change.

So, let’s compare and contrast how a manager and leader would approach their job, and clarify how we can combine both skill sets to become an unfireable manager.

Related: What Leaders Really Do | John P. Kotter | HBR

Managers Plan Budgets, Leaders Set Budget Direction

One of the primary things that management is concerned about is the budget planning. This includes knowing when to allocate funds to different departments, projects, or staff to achieve your team’s objectives.

Leaders are less concerned about planning and managing a budget, they're more concerned about setting the direction of the budget. Where should we be prioritizing our resources? Where should we be going?

But to be successful, we have to leverage both skill sets. We have to set the direction of where we want to go, what change we want to create, and then put our manager hat on, review earnings, set projections, and then allocate the funds accordingly.

Managers Organize Teams, Leaders Align Teams

A critical component of your role as a manager is to lead a team.

Managers are concerned about team structure. Who’s managing who? Who is leading which project? What are the daily tasks?

Leaders are more concerned about team alignment. They are skilled at mobilizing teams around shared vision, values, and company goals.

When you’re organizing people, it’s just as important that your team understands WHAT to do as WHY they are doing it. Highly effective teams clearly understand their role and contribution in fulfilling your company’s vision.

Managers Respond to Problems, Leaders Predict Problems

Managers are concerned about solving day-to-day problems required to keep the company in motion, like planning, deadlines, and upcoming presentations.

Leaders are concerned about empowering their people to identify and solve their own problems. They create opportunities for their team to take initiative in setting their own agenda. In doing so, they are training them to become future leaders within the organization.

Phenomenal leaders aren’t focused on putting out fires. They hold their team accountable to set their priorities so they can focus on high-level strategic thinking.

How did Steve Jobs Transform Into an Unfireable Leader?

At the beginning of this article, I used Steve Jobs as an example of a leader who hadn’t mastered how to harmonize his visionary leadership skills with tactical management skills.

He lacked emotional intelligence or interpersonal skills. Frankly, people didn’t like working with him, and this caused him to be fired from the company he founded, Apple.

When he returned to the company years later, he was much more mature. He came back with the ability to wear both hats as an innovative leader and a manager, which made the difference in Apple's success.

And so as a startup leader, think about where you're showing up as a manager and where you're showing up as a leader. Ask yourself how you can combine those skill sets to level-up as a manager that your organization wouldn’t dream of firing.

You can also check out my video here:

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