Can Managers be Leaders?

Businessmen standing in front of a map of the world

We are still meeting people who use the terms “management” and “leadership” as if they were synonymous because they cannot see the difference between the two or distinguish between the function of each type of role. Other people think that “leadership” exists among the people at the top of the organisational hierarchy. The layers below that in the organization are called “management” and then all the rest are the workers who produce goods and provide services.

There is also a misconception that “leaders” are born with a set of personality characteristics, including “charisma” and “vision.” By that definition, few people can provide leadership. Management, on the other hand, is a set of well-known processes. Planning, budgeting, recruitment, performance management, procurement and problem-solving, can all be learned. Management keeps the business running, delivering goods and services day after day, year after year. This can be an enormously difficult task, but you do not have to be a born manager. That division is so wrong in so many ways.

Back in the late eighties/early nineties, the call was to replace management with leadership. That is still common today and, then as now, it did not understand that both are needed because each serves different, but essential, functions. Let me explain with some examples.

When deciding what to do …

Leadership establishes direction by developing a vision of the future and devising strategies to produce the changes that will achieve that vision.

Management establishes the detailed work breakdown, milestones and timetable to achieve the required results then secures the budget and resources to make it happen.

When aligning people to results …

Leadership communicates the direction to everyone who may be involved, directly or peripherally, and influences the creation of teams and groups that understand and support the vision.

Management sets up the structure to achieve the outcomes of the plan, staffs the structure, delegates responsibility and authority to the staff with guidelines, policies and procedures, and defines performance standards.

When making it happen …

Leadership motivates and inspires, empowers people to overcome barriers (including political, bureaucratic and resource) focussing on the needs of the individual.

Management controls activities and solves problems, monitors results against the plan, corrects deviations and modifies the plan as necessary.

When looking at outcomes …

Leadership defines and redefines the outcomes, produces change and realigns the business to adapt to changing times.

Management produces consistency, reliability and order, key results that contribute to the desired outcomes.

Some of the best leaders I have met, and worked for, were ex-servicemen, some of them making a second career having retired from the forces. Generally, they were the best managers, too, because the armed forces long ago realised that leadership and management can both be learned and that they are not mutually exclusive. In my next couple of blogs, I am going to explore that theme.

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