(Editor’s Note: PPAI Media’s new “Voices” series introduces the opinions and advice of promo industry influencers on a variety of topics for which they specialize. The opinions and ideas belong to the individual writer and may not represent those of PPAI or their respective employer.)

Managing and leading are both essential for business success, but they are not the same.

Managing involves thorough oversight of projects, processes and resources, as well as careful execution of tasks. An effective manager prioritizes performance, focuses on achieving outcomes and celebrates results.

On the other hand, leading involves inspiring others with a compelling vision, clearly communicating strategic direction, and engaging, aligning and empowering individuals and teams to reach their potential.

Since both managing and leading are success-critical capabilities, neither is “better” than the other.

But in the fast-paced environment all of us in the promotional products industry are dealing with these days, it is all too easy to become mired in the management and neglect to spend an appropriate amount of mental energy on the leadership. We often find ourselves prioritizing what’s urgent at the expense of what’s important.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself and steps to take that will help strike a better balance between efforts spent in the business and time spent on the business: 

Where do I truly need to be involved?

Achieving the right balance between managing and leading your business requires that you protect and prioritize time.

Personally, I schedule time to focus on AIA’s key strategic initiatives, talent and culture, removing myself from meetings and decisions that can be effectively handled by others. By respecting the time to focus on the business, you are able to find clarity in the priorities that will continue to drive a healthy, growing organization.

Who else can do this besides me?

This simple question does not always have a simple answer if your team is small. In order to allow yourself the time to lead your business, there will come a point that you have to acknowledge when it is time to grow your team.

Growth begets growth. You may consider a new full-time employee or virtual assistant that can free up your time. Or you may decide to leverage a strategic partnership that can provide resources to automate recurring activities.  Either approach will help you answer the question “who else can do this besides me” and allow you to focus on the business and the path to growth. 

What am I seeing?

In addition to the importance of dedicated time to focus on the business, make time for reflection every week. I find that when I take time to look, I can see the business – and where I need to lead – much more clearly.

Look back to better understand what aspects of your business are going well and what areas may need improvement. 

Look around to see how changes in the competitive landscape, evolving customer expectations, increased adoption of new technologies or global developments might affect your business both now and in the future.

Look ahead to review your course forward, intentionally plan where your business is going and the clear steps to getting it there.


Managing the business and leading the business are both essential to success in any leadership role. The former is rooted in the present and navigating the current situation. The latter is rooted in the future and developing key insights into the best path forward.

Striking the right balance can mean the difference between success and failure. I have found that the key is to be intentional about the time and mental energy you dedicate to leading the business to truly see your business.

As Malcolm Forbes said, “The best vision is insight.”

Schmidt is the CEO of AIA. Under her leadership, the company has earned honors as one of PPAI Magazine’s Greatest Companies to Work For in promotional products, and she has been named one of the most influential people in the industry.