Thursday, 16 April 2009

Some Thoughts on Leadership versus Management

Leadership and Management. Like Cheap Car Insurance and Meerkats, 2 very different things. Yet so often confused or the terms used interchangeably. If you ask Wikipedia, you'll find this definition of Management: Management in all business and human organization activity is simply the act of getting people together to accomplish desired goals. Management comprises planning, organizing, staffing, leading or directing, and controlling an organization (a group of one or more people or entities) or effort for the purpose of accomplishing a goal. Resourcing encompasses the deployment and manipulation of human resources, financial resources, technological resources, and natural resources. while it has nothing definitive to say about the term Leadership.

Does this suggest we are generally less clear about the word and the concept? I think so.

20 years ago I found the following explication from Warren Bennis helpful in differentiating the two.He drew twelve distinctions between the two groups:

  1. Managers administer; leaders innovate.
  2. Managers ask how and when; leaders ask what and why.
  3. Managers focus on systems; leaders focus on people.
  4. Managers do things right; leaders do the right things.
  5. Managers maintain; leaders develop.
  6. Managers rely on control; leaders inspire trust.
  7. Managers have short-term perspective; leaders have long-term perspective.
  8. Managers accept the status-quo; leaders challenge the status-quo.
  9. Managers have an eye on the bottom line; leaders have an eye on the horizon.
  10. Managers imitate; leaders originate.
  11. Managers emulate the classic good soldier; leaders are their own person.
  12. Managers copy; leaders show originality.

I can't argue with any of that. I would add that the really crucial difference between the act of managing and the act of leading lies in the intent behind any interaction between the manager and the managed or the leader and the led. If one were undertaking, for example, a Performance Appraisal Review with a key team member, the spirit in which this is done is hugely significant to the value and impact of the outcome. If approached with the intent to 'manage', the process might focus on the timely scheduling of the review, the accurate completion of the necessary forms, adherence to relevant process and policy and correct distribution of the resulting report. If approached with the intent to lead, a different approach is needed.

Look at Bennis' 12 differences. Take 3, 5, 6 and 7. Such a review is an important opportunity to inspire, align, motivate and develop a key player for the good of the organisation, the team and the individual. Good 'management' of the process will not necessarily achieve any of those things. Taking the example further, a 'management' approach might focus on the performance over the appraisal period and on making a fair and reasoned evaluation of that performance. A worthy enough aim, but historical in focus. Bennis' 9 suggests a different focus may be helpful. What about untapped potential, future progression, extension and enrichment, opportunities to mentor or share good practice? This 'spirit' of leadership is crucial to the development of any organisation or team, and perhaps best summarises the difference between leading and managing; Managing is about keeping things under control, Leading about moving things forwards. One holds things in place, the other pushes things on.

That being said, leadership without management is not the right answer either. We need process, organisation, structure and planning as well as vision, inspiration and motivation. The true power lies in the effective integration and appropriate deployment of the two together. The Trait theory of leadership and the many works on 'charismatic leadership' emphasise the issue of personality and talk about attributes such as drive, entrepreneurship, charisma or oratorical skill. All valuable in inspiring and motivating 'followers', yet most likely to be present in those with little aptitude for those more prosaic skills of 'management' (I can hear the distant chuckling of current and former colleagues). Certainly vision, inspiration and motivation are key and the declamatory skills of the impassioned orator significant in stoking the fire - but someone has to translate all that energy into action and process if any real difference in performance is to result. And there's the rub. Visionaries are often uncomfortable with detail and are inclined to view impatiently those with a bent for managing as pedants, jobsworths or administrators (more chuckling). Those same managers often view Visionaries and charismatic leaders with suspicion and percieve a lack of substance... I can remember many a chorus of 'that's all very well but...' or 'yes, but it won't work in practical terms' and other phrases that are often really just disguised ways of saying 'let's leave it like it is'. The comfort zone exerts a powerful pull, especially on those averse to risk or (too) afraid of failure.

A dilemma. Perhaps the 21st century demands a new breed of LeaderManager, comfortable with the vision and the detail, the passionate and the pragmatic, the future and the present. Able to challenge the status quo yet avoid the ejection of offspring with bath water; able to mobilise the people and energise them for the journey while ensuring that every aspect of the vehicle is in good shape and that the route map is properly defined and thought-through.

A tough challenge - but then we live in tough and challenging times.


  1. One Key element of Leadership has to be Involvement . I have seen many well intentioned ventures fail because key people did not feel involved in the process...and by key I mean the bulk of the workforce/the shop floor / union representatives .
    Fear of losing control and opening a Pandoras box are part of the fear,plus the additional work and effort involved, but good Leadership recognises the rewards that the effort brings.

    The following quote sums it up for me.

    Tell me and I forget; show me and I remember; involve me and I understand.

    I would argue that from involvement comes a better defined route map.

  2. You're so right, Richard. There's such a difference in the spirit in which people follow when they feel part of the journey and the decision-making process. If leadership is seen as 'something that is done to me' rather than ' a journey we are on together' we are only going to engender compliance at best. I agree with your comments about courage too... so often 'theory X' leadership comes from fear of exposure and therefore is a sign of weakness rather than strength - the opposite of what some X leaders would like us to believe!

  3. Leadship can differ depending on an organisations structure;

    The day-to-day operations of the organisation requires stable routines, and controlled environment leadership.

    The development of new products,services requires creativity which is usually achieved in a loose and flexible environment.

    Obviously for leadership to be truly effective it should aim to be ambidextrous(dual organisational)