Are Leadership and Management Mutually Exclusive?

Are you a LEADER? Do you even want to be? One of the hottest topics of conversation in business and education today is leadership. We talk about it in the boardroom; we look for it in our elected officials, and integrate it into the classroom from the elementary school to the university. Back when I was in school, we focused on learning how to manage. Today we focus on learning how to lead. But, we may have shifted the focus too much. Contrary to so many things we read today, management and leadership are not mutually exclusive skill sets.

innovation 4The reality is that we need both managers AND leaders depending on the circumstance. Probably the easiest way to know what style is needed when is to look at what you are doing. When we are involved in making sure an event comes off smoothly, a plan is executed cleanly, or we are keeping track of important things at home or at work, we need to manage. When we are motivating people, changing directions, or exploring new areas, projects or things with our family, friends, or work teams, we have the opportunity to lead. Note that we have an opportunity – not necessarily an obligation – to take the lead. In many cases, too many leaders can be worse than too few. If multiple leaders are pulling the team in different directions – you don’t have leadership – you have confusion. But if you build your team with a solid mix of managers and leaders – with both respecting the contribution the other brings, you have a better chance of getting to where you are trying to go.

To manage or to lead? That is the question.

Much has been written on the difference between management and leadership. Two of my favorite writers on the subject are Warren Bennis and Ken Blanchard. Both have created great models that explain the difference between managing and leading and both draw the distinction between managing processes and leading people. The following table is a combination of their ideas and mine. It gives you a nice short list of the styles and behaviors we use when we manage or lead.  

Managers Leaders
Are Systems Focused Are People Focused
Direct Activities Encourage People to get on board
Control Assets Create or find resources
Risk averse Risk tolerant
Administrative by nature Innovative by nature
Focus on How and When Focus on What and Why
Emphasis on doing things right Emphasis on doing the right thing
Goal/Plan Oriented Visionary
Monitor near term results Look to the far horizon

As you look at the differences between the two, it is very clear – great leaders are important for our future direction – but it is the team and the managers that actually get the work done and make sure things happen. It’s like Oreo® cookies and milk – both are good individually, but together they are even better.

Preparing mangers and leaders…

So often we hear of people who are born leaders. Implying that leadership is instinctive or programmed into your DNA. You either have it or you don’t. But if you look at the games we played as children, they actually laid a foundation for our future management and leadership skills. In our early years the best follower was usually the winner. Think about games like Simon Says, Mother May I, and of course, Follow the Leader. Paying attention to details, following directions, and doing things just like your ‘leader’ was the key to success. If you were the best at observation and imitation, you won the game and moved to the front of the group.

As we grew older, new activities began to focus more on our talents and skills whether it was in the class room, scouting, clubs, sports, or music. Normally we chose the person we would follow based on their skill or experience. The games or activities had rules or guidelines, but within boundaries, we were encouraged to be creative in order to achieve our goals or win as a group. We also quickly learned who was best at a particular activity and more often than not, they became the leader for the day. Our parents, teachers, coaches, or troop leaders became our role models. How they managed or led were the examples we used to develop our own individual style. When we saw things we admired, we emulated them. In other cases, we may have rejected what they did and how they did it. Creating our own style based on the way we wish we had been treated. If you follow this logic, managers and leaders are not born. They are formed by the examples and the experiences we give to them. When I think of it this way – it makes me think twice – suddenly it’s just about what I need to accomplish, but it’s also about the way I will do it. If someone is always watching, how I choose to manage or lead will impact not only today’s activities but can have a lasting impact on the future managers or leaders who are watching what we do.

If no one is following you – how can you be a leader?

As every good drum major knows – they may be marching out in front – but the band makes the music. Good leaders and managers know that it is their team that makes the difference on whether or not they will reach their objective. Leadership implies that there must be followers. Management implies something to manage. Good managers and leaders must also not be afraid to step back and follow when another’s skills, talents or experience would provide a better solution. And as role models, we can demonstrate the value of being a follower as well as the person out in front. Our job is to recognize what skills to use and when so that the team is successful, the job gets done, and the vision becomes reality. After all – that’s what management and leadership are all about.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

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2 Responses to Are Leadership and Management Mutually Exclusive?

  1. Joe Williams says:

    Great post, Joan. I recall a session while I was in a leadership development program involving an executive, who said flatly that leaders are born and it was a waste of time to devote anything to “leadership development.” Obviously, I don’t share his view. Yet keeping in mind that getting results that matter involve both the leading of followers and the management of resources is an important lesson. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Bruce Lynn says:

    I have been exploring this very topic for severa years in my own blog. I am actually no a big fan of the Blanchard/Bennis distinctions because I think they discount the role of ‘management’ and subordinate it too much. My on conclusion is that ‘Leaders optimise the upside opportunity and Manager minimise the downside risks.’ It’s a very simple distinction that gets to the heart of executive responsibility (decision making, risk taking and inspiring effectiveness in others in te same).

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