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Are We There Yet? More on the Leadership-Management Debate

February 24, 2019

Part one of this post took a provocative stance on the leadership-management definition debate, leaving it to you to start some thinking.

My promise holds: no definitions of leadership in these two posts, just a lot of questions, supplemented by the eclectic views of some renowned thinkers.

Here are three questions for you to ponder in your own context (organization or community):

1) Who is a leader in my organization?
2) Is leadership specific to management positions?
3) Or is leadership seen by senior management as more inclusive among employees?

These are important questions to ask because once they’re answered it helps create a common vocabulary and set of expectations in an organization on how leadership is perceived and practiced.

But that’s only half the story. What about management?

First up, the 20th Century’s greatest management thinker, the late Peter Drucker.

Drucker didn’t believe that management and leadership could be separated into two discrete entities. As he once explained: “[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.”

Management thinker John Kotter views the relationship between leadership and management as “…two distinctive and complementary systems of action.” Although 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 continuous change. Focusing on leadership development may produce strong leaders, but the consequence will be weak management. The converse is true. The challenge, therefore, is how to combine strong leadership and strong management so that there’s balance.

A third perspective comes from brilliant thinker (and contrarian) Henry Mintzberg whose empirical research into the work of managers began in the early 1970s and which has continued. Mintzberg stated in an interview with CBC Radio many years ago that managers “…sit between their organizations and the outside world….they manage information in order to encourage people to take action.”

When we enter an organization that’s functioning well, where effective management and leadership practices abound, we’re able to sense it. Call it the “smell of the place.” Or in reference to Part One of this post, “I know it when I see it.”

It becomes very apparent in this type of organizational climate there’s abundant energy present, and that this energy is focused. People enjoy going to work every day because they understand where they fit into the organization’s vision and what their roles and responsibilities are. They’re committed.

The challenge, then, is how to weave together the roles of management and leadership so they form an integrated whole, especially in terms of achieving results by people. This leads to discussing the key distinctions and complementarities between management and leadership?

Managers have to cope with growing complexity when it comes to trying to understand the outside world and the effects on their organizations. In the absence of good management practices organizations can fall into chaos, which in turn threatens their survival. You can argue, then, that management brings order to organizations and consistency to their products and services.

In contrast, leadership involves coping with change. In a world experiencing economic and societal turbulence, this key aspect of leadership is becoming increasingly valuable to organizations.

Management and leadership must address these tasks; however, they approach them from different perspectives:

Planning, budgeting and resource allocation are activities initiated through the management function in an effort to address the issue of complexity. As a management process, planning is about producing orderly results, not about change. Leadership, on the other hand, involves creating a vision to chart a course for the organization. As part of this process, strategies are developed to initiate and sustain the needed changes to stay focused on the vision. How this is done is critical to helping move an organization towards its vision.

To reach its goals, management organizes and hires. This involves creating an organizational structure, including a set of job descriptions (or roles), that will enable the organization to achieve these goals. Through this process of organizing and staffing, management develops delegation authorities and monitoring systems. It also creates communication plans to ensure that employees understand what is taking place.

However, the management function needs the opposing hand of leadership to assist it, namely in aligning people. Communication becomes a critical activity here, especially in regard to ensuring that all employees understand the vision.

Management must also ensure that the plan is achieved, and it is does this through controlling and problem-solving. Monitoring plays an important role here. In contrast, leadership requires that people are motivated and inspired to work towards a vision, despite setbacks and unforeseen problems.

So what does all of this mean for management and leadership?

Management and leadership possess distinct differences, but also a complementarity that is yet to be fully debated, recognized and put into practice. The growth in knowledge work and the expectations of workers (Generation Y in particular) are strongly influencing how both leadership and management are practiced. Unfortunately, it’s almost as if the two are on separate tracks.

Work still needs to be planned, organized, directed, coordinated, monitored, etc. The context, however, is changing rapidly, both from an external world and from within organizations (e.g., the values people possess and what motivates and inspires them).

How organizations approach management and leadership development is critical to their eventual success, let alone their long-term survival. One of the first questions that must be asked is: How do we define leadership–and management– in our organizations?

All generalizations, including this one, are false.
– Mark Twain

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