How you as leader see your role has a significant impact on how you think, where you spend your time and how you act. How you see your role set’s you up for success, mediocrity or at worse failure. One of the biggest areas of confusion is in understanding how the role of a leader is different to that of a manager.
How the Focus of Leadership and Management Differs
The distinction between management and leadership is useful as it helps to provide a clear understanding of leadership and how it differs from the role of management. To get to grips with the role of a leader and that of a manager it’s important to lay a foundation by exploring the definition and focus of leadership and management.
Whilst there are numerous definitions for management, I have chosen to use the definition from Richard Daft a professor of Management at the Owen Graduate School of Management. Professor Daft defines management as the “attainment of organisational goals in an effective and efficient manner through planning, organising, staffing, directing and controlling organisational resource.” – Richard L. Daft, Leadership Theory and Practice. This definition is similar to how many others have defined management.
As one can observe from this definition the role of management is about getting work done on time, on budget and on target. The focus of management is planning, organising, execution, command and control.
“Leadership is a process of influence that generates the commitment and capabilities required to translate vision into reality.
Leadership is about on purpose, vision, change and influence. The focus of leadership is on the social process of change, driven by vision, influence and relationship.
The Characteristics of Leadership and Management
Leadership is about change, it requires challenging the status quo and to bring about a new future. Leadership is characterised by the following:
- A focus on development of people to achieve a vision and purpose
- Concerned with purpose and meaning
- Create a culture in support of their vision and goal
- Establishes direction through vision and purpose
- Inspires change
- Challenges the status quo and the existing way of doing things
- Creates alignment through culture
- Establishes trust as the foundation of relationships
- The leaders relationships with people is based on personal power
Management is about stability and order, it’s about putting the necessary plans, processes and systems in place to implement a goal. Management is characterised by the following:
- A focus on maintaining stability and control to achieve order and predictability
- A focus on systems and structures to deal with complexity
- Leverages controls to influence outcomes
- Defines strategy and tactics to achieve a goal
- Establishes direction through planning and budgeting
- Organizes resources, budgets, process, roles and responsibilities
- Measures and governs progress
- Creates alignment by organizing resources, controlling and creating boundaries
- Establishes authority as the foundation of relationships
- Establishes processes and controls for how work gets done
The above lists provide an overview of the differences between the role of manager and the role of manager.
The Role of the Leader, Role of the Manager
Let’s explore the role of a manager and the role of a leader in a bit more detail. John Kotter, a New York Times best-selling author and Harvard Professor, provides us the following observation on the nature of management and leadership.
“Management is about coping with complexity; it brings order and predictability to a situation. But that’s no longer enough — to succeed, companies must be able to adapt to change. Leadership, then, is about learning how to cope with rapid change.” – John Kotter, ‘What Leaders Really Do’, Harvard Business Review (May/June 1990).
Management is about dealing with complexity, it’s about bringing order and predictability to an enterprise. Leadership is about dealing with change. The greater the change the greater the need for leadership. This difference is one of the reasons for an increased emphasis on leadership over the past few decades. More change demands more leadership.
Management and leadership are two distinct approaches. Leaders places emphasis on people, whilst management is about control and predictable results. Managers take a more rational approach, leaders stir the passions and emotions of people.
”Leaders work on the culture of the organization, creating it or changing it. Managers work within the culture of the organization.” – Edgar H. Shein, “Organizational Culture” in J. Thomas Wren, ed. The Leader’s Companion.
Managers rely on rational, intellect and control to organize people and resources towards an outcome. Management is about controlling the work that other people do.
Leaders take a different approach, where managers seek to limit choices and to control outcomes, leaders seek to develop fresh approaches and new ways of thinking about opportunities. They get things done through influence, collaboration and inspiration.
One of the key differences between managers and leaders is that leadership is choice. Whereas management is an appointment. You can lead from anywhere in an organisation, you don’t need to be at the top of an organisation to lead, but you do need to be at the top of an organisation to manage.
Two Interdependent Systems of Action
The different roles of leader and manager call for two interdependent systems of action – ways of getting things done. Both of these systems of action are required for success. Each systems of action has a different focus and take different approaches to achieve outcomes. The management system focus is on the hard stuff, the plans, controls and measures. Whilst leadership has the soft stuff as it’s focus, that is the social process of influence and change. You manage things, but you lead people.
As we look to understand these two distinct and interdependent systems of action it’s important to keep in mind that both of the roles are required for organisations to succeed.
Debates about which role is better or more important miss the point. The distinction isn’t about labels. It’s about different roles that produce a different kind of results. Henry Mintzberg the widely regarded management expert makes the following important point concerning the role of a leader and that of a manager.
“… ever since the distinction was made between leadership and management — leadership somehow being the important stuff and management being what surgeons call the scut work — attention focused on leadership. My view is that management without leadership is disheartening or discouraging. And leadership without management is disconnected, because if you lead without managing, you don’t know what’s going on. It’s management that connects you to what’s going on. We can make the distinction between leadership and management conceptually, but in practice I don’t think we should.” – Henry Mintzberg
One last point. It’s important to understand that when we talk about management and leadership we’re referring to a set of behaviours and not a set personality traits. The reason for distinguishing between the two roles is not for the purpose of putting people into one of the two boxes. Meaning that it’s not the purpose of understanding these two systems of action is to classify people into “leaders” and “managers”. Rather, it’s about understanding the differences in the two roles, the outcomes that can be achieved from each role and learning to identify when it’s appropriate to exercise the required role.
Integrate Leadership and Management
The purpose of understanding these two systems of action is for us to gain insight into how you can integrate these two roles and thereby increase your effectiveness. Certain situations require more of a leadership role, such as creating meaning, purpose and inspiring people and other situations require more management, such as exercising control and driving execution. Overall you need a blend of leadership and management.
Management and leadership are needed to make organisations successful. Trying to decide if leadership or management is more important is like trying to decide if you need both the left and right wing on your airplane!
The best performing enterprises have behavioural traits of leadership, vision, purpose, inspiration, influence, collaboration supported by the management capabilities of process, measurement, controls and plans.
Management processes and systems are most effective when supported by strong leadership practices. Unfortunately too many organisations rely on top down, heavy-handed approaches to “manage change”, this destroys company moral and dis-empowers people. This has led to a number of authors who raised their concern that organisations tend to be over-managed and under-lead as the norm. It’s when leadership inspires direction and a supporting culture along with management making efficient use of resources, that organisations begin to thrive and performance increases. Organisations require vision, innovation and change as much as they require efficiency, governance and execution.
“But while improving their ability to lead, companies should remember that strong leadership with weak management is no better, and is sometimes actually worse, than the reverse. The real challenge is to combine strong leadership and strong management and use each to balance the other.” – John Kotter, ‘What Leaders Really Do’, Harvard Business Review (May/June 1990)
Given the importance of leadership and management we can end the debate as to which is better and move the conversation forward and begin to consider which behaviours and skills is most appropriate in a particular situation. To do this requires that we step back from the action and ask ourselves what is needed here to help the team translate our vision into reality? Do we require more leadership or more management at this time?
Always Lead First and Manage Second
The reality of business today is that you’re expected to manage and lead, the interesting thing is that leadership responsibilities tend to be missing from many company job descriptions. The implication is that management is your primary responsibility and leadership is secondary.
The best leaders today are both leaders and managers. Leadership requires that we regularly ask the right questions, that we continually renew. Enterprises perform better when we first choose to lead first and manage second.
“Management has a lot to do with answers. Leadership is a function of questions. And the first question for a leader always is: ‘Who do we intend to be?’ Not ‘What are we going to do?’ but ‘Who do we intend to be?’” – Max De Pree, Herman Mille
Management is necessary, but not sufficient. Leadership is required to motivate and inspire. Leading first helps to overcome the tendency for organisations to be over-managed and under-led.
Leading first ensure a focus first on being effective (doing the right things) before you work on efficiency (doing things right).
“I tend to think of the differences between leaders and managers as the differences between those who master the context and those who surrender it.” – Warren Bennis, (2003), On Becoming a Leader
The challenge is that our education system and business environments are structured to favor management over leadership. The result is that people are most comfortable working within the management systems and have better developed management skills, so management comes more naturally.
You need to lead first, to challenge and to encourage your team and organisation to move out of their comfort zone, to embrace change, to let go of our need to control and to inspire people with passion and energy. Then, and only then, should you seek to manage.