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Leadership and Management

Leadership and Management – Do we need one more than the other?

What is the difference between management and leadership? It is a question that has been asked many times but our focus in this brief article is not only on how they might be different but also on whether we need one more than we need the other.

Some individuals see these two terms of “leadership” and “management” as synonyms and frequently use them interchangeably when discussing the subject. Other people however view them as extreme opposites and having little overlap between them. Still other people occupy a sort of “middle-ground” and take the view that while there is a difference between leadership and management, perhaps there are times when they can and do overlap and that we often need both of them.

The old proverb says that leadership is doing the right thing; management is doing things right. But this is an overgeneralization and we therefore need to look a little more closely at the major differences in focus or emphasis. Although there is never a “hard-line” to be drawn between them, the table below attempts to describe the two fields in the simplest of terms:

Leadership Focus Management Focus
  • Alignment
  • Vision/Direction
  • Big picture/overview
  • Strategic/Medium to Long-term
  • Has the “eye” on the horizon
  • Change
  • Challenges the status quo
  • Informal
  • Effectiveness
  • Styles /Approach
  • Releasing potential
  • Mainly use the power of Influence
  • Facilitates decisions
  • Investigates reality
  • Asks what and why
  • Organization
  • Process/Control
  • Little picture/detail
  • Tactical/Short to medium-term
  • Has the “eye” on the bottom line
  • Stability
  • Accepts the status quo
  • Formal
  • Efficiency
  • Skills
  • Using existing ability
  • Mainly use the power of Authority
  • Makes decisions
  • Accepts reality
  • Asks how and when

By laying out the two functions side by side like this some clarity about the terms starts to emerge. However, we are hard pressed to exclude an individual focus on either side of the divide as being in some way unimportant or unnecessary to organizational success. Hence we can start to see that both leadership and management are important. But can we now determine in what proportion in most circumstances?

Another way to look at the split between these terms is to put leadership on one axis and management on the other and in so doing to create a classic four-quadrant grid such as the one below:

Strong Leadership but Weak Management Strong Leadership and Strong Management
  • Visions detached from reality
  • Alignment without organisation
  • Multiple projects culture slowly emerges
  • Strategies lack support and formal planning
  • Inspirational visions and strategies
  • Widespread organisational alignment
  • Integrated planning and control of resources
  • Full employee empowerment and commitment
Weak Leadership and Weak Management Strong Management but Weak Leadership
  • No vision or strategies
  • Poor planning and resource allocation
  • Out of control processes
  • Employee disaffection and frustration
  • Processes grow more unwieldy and/or bureaucratic
  • Over-specialisation/standardization
  • More policies and procedures evolve
  • Controls stifle creativity/innovation

It is now quite clear that we want to have both strong leadership and strong management in most situations and that no one is necessarily more important than the other. Our focus then should be whether we have enough management or enough leadership.

Assuming that the organization is not occupying the bottom left corner of the above grid, if we need to add more leadership then the emphasis will be on greater use of the communication process (in both directions), pulling people together and creating more widespread team commitment (amongst other things). If, on the other hand, we need to add more management, then the emphasis will be on greater standardization or specialization, the establishment of more formal structures and greater control of systems (among other things).

Ultimately, organizational success rests on a healthy balance of leadership and management and we need to learn how to make sure we have enough of each and in the right proportion for the circumstances.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at OptimalJon@gmail.com

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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