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Are You Numb from the Leadership-Management Debate?

August 12, 2012
Updated February 1, 2017

If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.
Yogi BerraLeadership versus management.

How do you define them?

Are you confused or fed up with the conflicting definitions espoused by the “experts?”

I decided to Google a few search phrases, and received the following:

“Definition of leadership:” 139,700,000 results (double the number when this post first appeared)
“Definition of management:” 602,000,000 results (up from 198,000,000)
“Leadership versus management:” 25,100,000 results (a slight drop from 26,400,000)

I decided it was time to stop Googling and do some writing.

You won’t find a definition of leadership or management in this two-part post because my aim is to provoke your reflection and inquiry. And to assist you, I’ll provide a few perspectives from some respected thinkers and practitioners in the field. As a start, Henry Mintzberg (McGill University) argues that organizations have been “undermanaged and over-led.” Now there’s something to think about. (We’ll return to Mintzberg in part two of this post).

The ongoing love affair with leadership as a topic is somewhat perplexing. Its pervasiveness extends from community meetings to corporate boardrooms to national politics to military campaigns.

Our hunger for clarity in a sea of global turmoil and unpredictability forces us to look to those we perceive as having the answers. Along the way we engage in conversations and debates on just what our personal views or definitions are of leadership.

U.S. Justice Potter Stewart’s well quoted remark from a 1964 court case dealing with censorship in the movie industry (on “hard-core pornography… I know it when I see it”) has the parallel for effective leadership: we know it when we see it.

Trying to establish a definitive definition of leadership is impossible. Even attempting to create a generally accepted definition would be more difficult than nailing Jello to the wall. That leaves us with what’s becoming a largely redundant conceptual debate, when what really needs to be explored is the inter-relationships between leadership and management; the latter of which has become the poor cousin.

In part two of this post we’ll look at what some of the big thinkers have been saying on leadership and management: their distinct aspects and complementarities.

Stay tuned for Part Two: Are We There Yet? More on the Leadership-Management Debate

Curiosity did not kill this cat.
Studs Terkel

Photo by J. Taggart (John Hancock Tower, Chicago)

Book CoverClick here to download my complimentary e-book Discover Your Inner Leader: Reflections to Inspire and Motivate.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 12, 2012 4:38 pm

    Well, I’m still trying to understand this stuff, Susan. It’s interesting to look back over the past two decades at the leadership-management field and the plethora of books, periodicals, etc. I still have my favorites who I go to when I need clarification. Thanks very much for your loyal readership and for your contributions.


  2. August 12, 2012 4:14 pm


    Congratulations on this milestone — 300 informative, inspiring, thought-provoking posts. Quite an accomplishment. You are clearly a leader when it comes to understanding leadership.

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