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The Art (NOT Science) of Management–and its Cousin Leadership

April 7, 2014

Drucker It seems that a number of people want to be scientists, or at least in the sense of ostensibly adding credibility to their respective field of work. Economists (of which I’ve been a practitioner since 1982) and those in the leadership field (yours truly since the early nineties) covet the science moniker. Adding the word “science” adds a certain cachet to one’s profession.

The purpose of this post is to demonstrate the intertwined relationship between management and leadership, and in doing so help shed the notion that management is some form of science. Let’s take a quick tour of what some of the top gurus have had to say on the topic.

John Kotter sees leadership and management as “…two distinctive and complementary systems of action.” While each field has its own unique characteristics and functions, both are essential for managers if they’re to operate successfully in complex organizations that are subject to constant change. Focusing on leadership development may produce strong leaders, but the consequence will be weak management. And the converse is true. How to combine strong leadership and strong management, so that there is balance, is the real challenge. As Kotter says: “…Smart companies…rightly ignore the literature that says people cannot manage and lead.”

The late Peter Drucker, the 20th Century’s pre-eminent management thinker, understood the interrelationship between management and leadership. He didn’t believe that management and leadership could be separated, stating it’s “…nonsense*as much nonsense as separating management from entrepreneurship. Those are part and parcel of the same job. They are different to be sure, but only as different as the right hand from the left or the nose from the mouth. They belong to the same body.”

A third perspective comes from Chris Hodgkinson, who presents a similar view on ‘administration’ (his term for management) and leadership. “Administration is leadership. Leadership is administration.” He states that the word leadership is used loosely and not well understood. It is “…as if it were a sort of increment to the administrative-management process which might or might not be present.” He believes that leadership extends throughout an organization. Leadership and management go together. The individual cannot avoid one without avoiding the other. Hodgkinson sees leadership as “…the effecting of policy, values, philosophy through collective organizational action.”

All of this might leave you a bit numb or yawning. However, when one considers the vast volume of leadership writing which tends towards a vanilla-skewed portrait of what is in fact a dynamic field, interwoven with a management dimension, then it’s worthwhile to pursue this line of inquiry.

That’s code for let’s stop the BS on management is a science while leadership is some form of extra-terrestrial higher form of being. The two, indeed, form together the left and right sides of the face, the yin and the yang, or whatever metaphor turns you on.

thumbnail Let’s move on to one fellow who really gets it, who happens to be a Canadian, and one of the most respected management-leadership teachers and practitioners on the planet. Meet Henry Mintzberg of McGill University in Montreal.

Mintzberg is one of the few leadership gurus who has done solid empirical research into the actual work of middle managers and senior organizational leaders. His early work dates back to the seventies, to be buttressed three decades later through additional empirical study. Mintzberg is a realist when it comes to how those in official (appointed) management positions must lead their subordinates. As he stated in a 1999 radio interview with the CBC: “Managers sit between their organizations and the outside world….they manage information in order to encourage people to take action.”

He refers to the “myths” of managers planning, organizing, coordinating and controlling, noting that when one observes managers at work, it’s difficult to determine if they’re actually engaging in these activities. Managers get interrupted continually, and spend a lot more time talking to people than reading. They develop and maintain large people networks through what he calls lateral managerial relationships

So where does Mintzberg stand on the issue of leadership? As he puts it bluntly: “…Superman’s abilities are modest in comparison. We list everything imaginable.” For Mintzberg, good leaders are candid, open, honest, and share information with people. The issue of truth is fundamental to Mintzberg’s stand on leadership. “People have agendas,” he notes, and consequently they hoard information and do not disclose their true feelings. The work of senior leaders becomes more difficult because they are often unable (or do not wish) to find out what is really going on in their organizations.

If you’re more confused now about the distinction and complementarity between leadership and management, that’s good. You’re on a learning journey, one that doesn’t have easy and clear answers. There are no experts, just students of leadership.

Take a moment to check out this superb interview with Mintzberg shortly after his book Managing was released in 2009.

And finally, here are three questions for you to reflect upon:

1) Do you believe that line and operational managers should only focus on the short-term?

2) Do you believe that an executive’s job is primarily to concentrate on the long-term?

3) What leadership role do you believe non-managerial employees should play within their organizations?

Start a conversation in your workplace on these and other questions to which you seek answers.


Continuous change is comfortable change. The past is then the guide to the future.

Charles Handy


Photos: Peter Drucker and Henry Mintzberg


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