Balancing Leadership and Management

A major topic of discussion in management circles today is leadership. Many people struggle to draw a distinction between leadership and management. I heard another manager draw the following reasonable distinction between management and leadership. I am sure they go over similar discussions about leadership and management in line management training to boost the skills of these professional managers and leaders but today I am going to give you my definition.

Managing is about making your sure your people are doing things right. Leadership is about making sure that your people are doing the right things.

This statement tells us that management is about execution. A manager must ask questions like:

  • Do we have the right tools?
  • Do we have processes in place that ensure we meet our quality, efficiency, and schedule goals?
  • Does everyone know their role in the process?
  • Are the deliverables at each stage of the process well defined?
  • Do we have metrics in place for measuring our performance?
  • Do we have a plan for incorporating feedback into the process?

Leadership is about vision -- a leader has a larger view of the organization's objectives. The leader must ensure that the staff does not get so involved in day-to-day execution that the lose sight of the long-range objective. When it comes to how to lead, leaders must ask questions like:

  • How does what I we are doing today advance us toward our ultimate goal tomorrow?
  • Do I have a strategy for achieving our ultimate goals?
  • Do we have the right staff to execute the strategy
  • Can I foresee any obstacles and what can I do to mitigate their impact?
  • How do we attract and retain the kind of talent that we are going to need?
  • Are our processes scalable?
  • How do I effectively communicate our organizational vision?

When I think about leadership, I am always cognizant that a leader needs followers -- business is filled with people with a vision that they cannot sell to others. Having followers means that you can articulate a viable vision that other people are drawn to. It also means that you value these followers enough to make sure that their needs are cared for. When I think about the people skills that a leader requires, I think of this quote from General Shinseki.

You must love those you lead before you can be an effective leader. You can certainly command without that sense of commitment, but you cannot lead without it. And without leadership, command is a hollow experience, a vacuum often filled with mistrust and arrogance.

I also recognize that the skills of the leader are frequently at odds with being a manager. Time I spend on being managing is time I am not spending on leadership. There is an aspect of balance involved. The balance needed depends on the project and the team you have put together. Ultimately, I must spend enough time on management so that my team runs long enough and efficiently enough for our strategy to play out.

It makes sense that the balance between management and leadership must judgement and balance. I always tell my staff that the the interesting questions in life have the answer "It depends ..." -- otherwise they really wouldn't be questions.

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3 Responses to Balancing Leadership and Management

  1. Pingback: How Leaders Can Create a Culture of Feedback | Linked 2 Leadership

  2. brucelynn says:

    I actually advocate a more mathematical definition of Leadership and Management. Leaders optimize upside opportunity; Managers minimize downside risk. Both together are needed in appropriate balance to optimize outcomes. Sort of a portfolio approach to executive stewardship.

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