Leadership Versus Management

It’s a discussion that people have been having for years and years: leadership versus management. Is there a difference? What’s the difference? Which one is better? Which one are you? Can you be both? What does it take to be a leader versus what does it take to be a manager?

Perhaps Harvard professor and accomplished author John Kotter has said it best by suggesting that leadership is focused on dealing with change and management is focused on dealing with complexity. If you supervise people and if you lead an organization, department, or team, then you certainly have to deal with both change and complexity. And that means that in order to be at your best, you almost certainly need to be both a leader and a manager.

If you want to be a good leader, there are some things you have to manage. If you want to be a good manager, you must also be a good leader. No one in an organization really has the luxury of saying, “I am a leader, but not a manager” nor “I am a manager, but not a leader.” You may be better at one or the other, but your effectiveness will take a quantum leap forward when you embrace the reality: I must be both. If you are married with children, you cannot seriously say, “I’m a spouse, but not a parent” or “I’m a parent, but not a spouse.” Anyone can see this is a recipe for disaster.

In order to be at your best, there are two things to keep in mind about these two roles:

  1. Keep leadership and management balanced.
    It’s been said that most organizations are over-managed and under-led. This is almost certainly the case, and it’s not hard to understand why. We are almost overwhelmed with complexity in our world today, and it’s tempting to become so obsessed with trying to manage those complexities that we ignore our equally important responsibility to lead. However, change neither stands still, nor will it go away. Ignore the need to lead, and soon there won’t be anything to lead.

Leaders and Managers

  1. Keep leadership and management in the right order.
    Leadership must precede management. If you simply try to manage the complexities without first setting the direction, it will kill morale. Leaders challenge the status quo. They inspire us by helping us to see a picture of a preferred future. However, change creates its own complexities, and that’s where management comes. In some cases, leaders who refuse to give management its proper place also kill morale because they never acknowledge the need to manage anything—including the rate of change.

People who are equally gifted in both leadership and management are rare. However, effective leaders quickly learn that the way forward is not either/or… it’s definitely both/and.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Chief Operations Officer, Strategic Government Resources

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