There is a hot debate about the difference between management and leadership. Much of the conversation is more misleading than illuminating. This article sets the record straight and helps you integrate the two functions.
Flawed thinking in the leadership/management dialog
A long-standing confusion
In 1985, authors Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus famously wrote, “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing.” The catch phrase became a cliché and the source of confusion.
First, the assertion created a false dichotomy that suggests that not only are the functions of leadership and management distinct, but they are in opposition to one another. To many, it implied that managers don’t do the right thing and leaders don’t do things right.
Second, the phrase distinguished managers and leaders from each other. It is more accurate to distinguish management activities from leadership activities. In the real world, leaders also manage, managers also lead, and even non-leaders and non-managers lead and manage.
Third, the claim incited a valuation of one function over the other, with leadership generally winning favor over management. As a result, leadership training largely became more highly esteemed than management training – although both authors have been invited to lead “leadership training” that included more management training content than leadership development.
Ultimately we need both management and leadership skills. We need to do the right things right. Of course, to do the right things right, it helps if we understand what it takes to do things right.
It is useful to differentiate the two skill sets without creating a false dichotomy. If we want to develop leaders, we ourselves need to understand the difference between leadership skills and activities and management skills and activities. We also need to know how to integrate the two. Each situation in business is unique and calls for selecting from a broad set of skills to best address each situation. Leadership development involves guiding emerging leaders to have the appropriate mix of each.
In this discussion, we focus on leadership and management activities instead of roles.
The leadership, management distinction
- We lead when we set a direction. We manage when we carry that direction out.
- We lead when we work with ideas and people. We manage when we work with processes for people to implement.
- We lead when we create a vision. We manage when we create a plan.
- We lead when we inspire others. We manage when we provide structure.
- We lead when we envision, propose and create change. We manage when we organize the implementation of that change.
- We lead when we see what could be. We manage when we deliver what is and what leadership has decided will be.
- We lead when we originate initiatives. We manage when we make the initiatives happen.
- We lead when we develop other leaders. We manage when we take action to make sure the dynamic leader development process moves smoothly.
How dynamic leaders balance leadership and management
Dynamic leaders provide vision, align people’s efforts with the organization’s direction, motivate action and inspire people to stay focused on the mission and vision. This produces positive momentum. Dynamic leaders sometimes also need to act as dynamic managers and create stability and efficiency through budgeting, planning, staffing, problem solving, keeping things on schedule and problem solving.
It takes leadership AND management skill to develop a dynamic leader
To develop dynamic leaders, we need to understand what leadership is and isn’t, and then to teach it. Ironically, teaching leadership requires we apply management skills as much as leadership skills. We ask – “where are we at this point in the process?” – and respond accordingly – with the perfect blend of leadership and management.
Ideas and execution go hand in hand. With luck, intention and proper phrasing, we can be both a skillful leader and an expert manager.
A great resource to develop a balance between leadership and management communication is Wendy Mack’s and my book Perfect Phrases for Leadership Development. The phrases in the book are designed to cultivate leadership qualities at every level in ways that integrate with rather than usurp management and other forms of action. They also are designed to help us manage the leadership development process as skilled coaches and mentors to emerging leaders.