On Management and Leadership

Leader or Manager?  Manager or Leader?  Which one are you?  It appears, based on the prevailing conventional wisdom you can only be one.  And there can be little doubt, given the volume of books, articles, etc., published which one the consultants, academics and experts feel you should be: Leader.  But why do you have to be just one?  Why does the conjunction used have to be “or”?  Why can’t it be “and”?

Management has been defined as: doing things right; being what you do and how you do it; and getting work done though others.  Leadership, on the other hand, has been defined as: doing the right thing; what you say and how you say it; and creating and articulating a vision, inspiring people to pursue it.  There are many other definitions that can be used, but the fact remains that people see a clear distinction between management and leadership, or more specifically, managers and leaders.

It is interesting the way the relationship between manager and leader has evolved.  Back in the early parts of the 20th Century, when management as we know it was invented, managers were needed to organize and control the work people, who just a few years earlier had been performing work as farm hands, craftsmen, or some other independent trade.  Mass production brought about mass management.  Leadership came from the very top of these newly minted organizations and there was very little focus or need for it in the lower to middle levels since there was so much work to be done.  This work had to be organized, controlled, and done through others.  Management and managers were required.

As time has passed, we now see that the work to be done, while still tremendous, has been made much more efficient through the use of technology (computers, automation, etc.) and that the work of managers as they were originally intended is no longer as essential.  What has become necessary is the ability to motivate people to perform at a high level, to do the right things, and to create and share a vision.  Leadership is needed.

However, before we rush off and cast aside all the managers, we still need to perform some of the fundamental roles of management – things need to be done right, work needs to be organized and performed through others, and while the amount of control needed is certainly less than in the early 20th century, there remain some actions that need to be disseminated and executed through the organization.  Managers are still needed.

We need to do the right things, but they also must be done right.  We need to create and share a vision, but need to make sure others can execute the vision.  We need to say the right things and do the right things.  We need management and leadership.  We need managers and leaders.

The problem is: as the needs of the role of managers have evolved, our definition of what makes a manager has not.  Managers have traditionally executed the rules of the organization.  Those employees that were able to follow those rules and perform the work assigned were deemed as “outstanding” employees and were put on “next up” lists and the like.  When management promotions opened up, these employees were “rewarded” with the promotion.  The basis of the promotion was simply their ability to follow the rules, do a good job, stay out of trouble, and possibly educational background.  Or worse, our fear that they will leave the organization if we don’t give them a management position! (Solution to this problem: create Technical Specialist positions with pay equal to that of managers.  What they really want is more likely the money, and if they are that good, then they should be worth it)  Their ability to lead was only a minor consideration, if any at all; besides, any leadership shortcomings would be addressed at the company’s “leadership training” sessions.  And so, we end up with managers (by title) with little or no leadership skills or ability; a perilous cycle.

It has been driven into our heads by countless leadership gurus that to be a leader, one does not need to be a manager.  But, in today’s environment, can one really be a manager without being a leader.  Sure someone can have the title “Manager”, just as one can have the title “Leader”, but just because someone gives you the title “Manager” or “Leader” doesn’t make you one.  The latest push by HR departments to have “Department Leader” instead of “Department Manager” will do nothing to actually develop and make sure we put in place leaders.  All it will do is ensure that in a few years we will be talking about “Leaders” the way we are talking about “Managers” today.

People should become managers because they are leaders and can inspire and motivate people to get the work done.  Some may have better management skills and some may have better leadership skills.  Their success will depend on the situation, as some roles require more management skills and some more leadership skills.  The good ones recognize which one is needed and supplement the other with a strong team around them.

The paradigm must change.  You don’t have to be a manager to be a leader, but you better be a leader to be a manager.

Your thoughts?


3 thoughts on “On Management and Leadership

  1. Glenn,

    I agree with you, there’s a lot of job title inflation. “Leader” sounds better than “Manager”, so gurus trying to sell books urge people to become “leaders”. I’ll take it one step further and remind you of Peter Drucker’s warning that “leader” is often a pejorative. To Drucker, leaders were people like Stalin, Hitler and Mao, while managers were people like Alfred Sloan and Andy Grove.

    The snake oil salesmen are now controlling the presses and we’re getting what we deserve. Fine leaders like Dennis Kozlowski, Bernie Ebbers, Dick Fuld and let us not forget the extraordinary leadership shown by Moammar Khadafi, Saddam Hussein, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez.

    And let’s pay particular attention to the recent example of what the leader of the IMF, Dominique Strauss Kahn did. His excellent example of leadership will hopefully get him thrown into the pokey, where he’ll hopefully get exactly what he deserves for a very long time.

    With any luck, they’ll throw the leadership gurus and snake oil salesmen in there with him too, so that managers can be left alone do some work.

  2. I completely agree with your perspective about using the word “and” instead of “or” when discussing management and leadership. I understand all the discussion about the differences and similarities, but I think at times we get way too bogged down in trying to differentiate the two. I think of it as the difference between a house and a home. One is more structural, while the other is associated with the emotional fiber contained within that structure. They are one in the same, but you can have the structure (management) without the emotional fiber (leadership).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s