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Are You Numb from the Leadership-Management Debate?

February 17, 2019

If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else. (Yogi Berra)

Leadership versus management.

How do you define them?

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

A quick Google search on a few search phrases produced 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)

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 the aim is to provoke your reflection and inquiry. And to assist you, few perspectives are provided from some respected thinkers and practitioners in the field. As a start, Henry Mintzberg (McGill University) argues that organizations have been “under-managed 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 (American author)

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