The FINAL – Leadership Vs. Management

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Before I started writing this post I hesitated.

This is an argument as old as time (although maybe not in these specific words). Leadership has always been something humans as a species have understood – our natural equivalents prioritise strength, physical fitness and health to determine who in the herd or pack is designated with the task of ‘leading’. As civilisations, societies, nations, hierarchies, groups, circles emerged – leaders became those who either were in post by birth-right (royals, noblemen etc.), those who worked their way up (the Napoleons of the world) and those who inspired national change (Nelson Mandela, John F Kennedy etc…).

Leadership is something that has been around for ages although we claim to not understand and incessantly debate on what good leadership characteristics are.

The truth is simple – in order to be a leader, you must be followed. So let’s flip the debate on its head. Rather than thinking of the qualities of a good leader, what are the requirements of followers? This could be trust, respect, admiration, clear, understood etc. In order to be a follower – you have to be able to both trust and respect your leaders vision and ability to deliver in order to follow.

So where does management come into this?

Management is a term that emerged from the industrial revolution, which took workers off the front line and elevated them to a position where they had overall responsibility but didn’t do any ‘delivery’. Their job was to monitor performance, create systems and structures, which ensured productivity, and to be a disciplinary force when people stepped out of line.

Over the years, management has come to reflect the various echelons of corporate life where a business needs to ensure that strategic objectives and targets are met without getting drawn into the day-to-day tasks of ‘delivering’ (either a product or service).

An interesting parallel is the difference between a sales manager and a sales team leader. Based on the above description of management (i.e. the systems and structures which ensure delivery) then a sales team leader is someone who leads the team (making sure they stay motivated, continue making calls, booking appointments etc.) but is involved in ‘delivery’ whereas a sales manager is the one responsible for the team reaching their targets, setting targets, doing the forecast, monitoring pipeline quality etc. but doesn’t ‘pound the pavement’ or ‘hammer the phones’.

Allow me to simplify:

Leadership is qualitative – depending on the trust and respect of those who follow them
Management is quantitative – the systems and processes that support leadership and ensuring that delivery is completed timely and productively

CEO’s in the 21st Century are being much more hard pressed to adopt ‘leadership characteristics’ – most CEO’s in global companies ‘grew up’ in an environment of corporate structures and ladders, hierarchies, management etc. Now, most ‘management duties’ are carried out by those you employ to ‘manage’ your business – i.e. your project managers, delivery managers, sales managers etc. who ensure that your vision and strategy is translated into a viable business model with programmes, processes and policies to support you.

Take CEO’s like Steve Jobs and Sathya Nadella – their roles in their respective companies was/is to ‘lead’ – to motivate and inspire staff to work towards the companies vision, to clearly and concisely articulate what that vision is and make sure that his team, via the various management hierarchies are able to disseminate this vision, capitalise on the motivation and inspiration of staff and deliver the organisations strategy.

The question I’d like to pose is ‘what are you missing?’ – in my experience, your CEO’s of the world a riddled with flaws and they’re usually either one of the other (a manager or a leader). Is your business all leadership (huge engagement, poor systems and structures) or all management (plenty of systems and structures but low engagement). Or neither. Or both. These are the questions that ‘leaders’ need to ask. Do I lead or do I manage? If I lead, maybe it’s time I started bringing talent in or promoting internally those who cry for systems and structures. If I manage, maybe I need someone who can lead, motivate and inspire my team whilst I deal with the day-to-day operational delivery work.

What are your views on this? How does your business fare on the balance between leadership and management? Let us know in the comments below.

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