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Leadership vs Management: Are You Numb from the Debate? (Part 2)

Jim Taggart

How can you think and hit at the same time?

      - Yogi Berra

Part One of this two-part series assumed a more provocative stance on the leadership definition debate, leaving it to you, the reader, to initiate a process of reflection and inquiry. And my promise holds: there will be no definitions of leadership in this series, just a lot of questions, supplemented by the eclectic views of some renowned thinkers.

Who is a Leader?

Here are a few questions to ponder in your own context (organization or community):

Who is a leader in my organization?

Is leadership specific to management positions?

Or is leadership seen by senior management as more inclusive among employees?

These are important question to ask because, once answered, they help create a common vocabulary and set of expectations in the organization on how leadership is perceived and practiced.

But that’s only half the story.

What about management?

A sampling of prominent thinkers regarding their perceptions of management and leadership reveals a great deal of insight. The result is perhaps a rough consensus, but certainly not a definitive conclusion to the debate.

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.”

{Ceasar-coin-275x134Management guru 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.”

Where does leadership fit, therefore, in the context of an organization? The long lists of attributes of leaders prompted Mintzberg to reply: “…Superman’s abilities are modest in comparison. We list everything imaginable.” In his opinion, good leaders are candid, open, honest, and share information with people.

We Know It When We See it

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, “I know it when I see it.”

It becomes very apparent in this type of organizational climate that 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.

Weaving It Together

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 a discussion of the key distinctions and complementarities between management and leadership.

Managers have to cope with growing complexity when it comes to understanding 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 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.

Complexity and Change

These two features - coping with complexity and change - shape the functions of management and leadership. This results in three real world tasks that are essential for managers.

  • First, they must determine the work that needs to be done by employees.
  • Second, to accomplish this work people must work laterally, often forming networks. Managers are conduits to ensure that this occurs.
  • And third, they must ensure that work gets done properly and on time.

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 toward 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 toward 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, if not their long-term survival.  And if these organizations are going to succeed (or survive), one of the first questions that must be asked is:

How do we define leadership - and management - in our organization?


All generalizations, including this one, are false.

     - Mark Twain


Thanks, Jim, for the provocation.

I am a little numb from the dabate over leadership vs management.  However, I will put a stake in the ground (which I am not necessarily prepared to defend) by suggesting that ‘maangement’ is a job, position in an organization or set of functions with respect to a task whereas ‘leadership’ is a behavioural attribute or, perhaps, a more or less complex set of behavioural attributes. 

Viewed this way, the distinction is clear and not very complicated.  Plus, it still leaves lots of room for debate (and/or research) into questions such as what it takes to be an effective manager and what is the impact of effective leadership.

By Greg Tricklebank on 2011/05/04

Another way of looking at it is that leaders create a vision and inspire people to move toward it. And that managers manage the organization that must implement the vision. I think quite a bit has been written about organizations transitioning from the vision of the founder/entrepreneur to the manager. One sees the archetype in the Steve Jobs story. (the visionary left and the manager who followed him screwed it up). The obverse of the Apple story is the persistence of IBM.

I bet we could confuse ourselves further by noting that there are very few examples of organizations lasting over time if the entrepreneur hung around (usually the organization outgrows him/her) yet also very few organizations that persisted when run by managers after the founding visionary is gone. (I think very few of the Fortune 500 were around 20 years ago.)

In light of that, we will all be watching Google now that the ‘grown ups’ who were there to manage it and who seemed to be stifling it, have been kicked out and the leaders are back.

By Ellen Godfrey on 2011/05/04

Thanks Greg and Ellen for weighing in. Nice succinct comment, Greg, with which I agree. The aspect of management being an appointment to a position vs. leadership involving the creation of a followership (ie, it is earned) seems to get lost on many people. Indeed, I recall comments from former public service colleagues who would excitely brag about “getting their EX, or being appointed to an EX position.” What gets lost in the crossfire is that one can rule through compliance from the perch of a management position. But this is vastly different from having a committed followership who share your vision and want to be part of community of people who seek to co-create something.

I like your points, Ellen. They’re especially important when one looks at innovation in a brutally competitive environment. There’s that tension between the visionary founder and CEOs. I find Microsoft’s bumbled efforts to regain a foothold in a rapidly evolving technology world quite interesting to observe.

By Jim Taggart on 2011/05/05

Management vs. Leadership is a debate that will never come to an end, and most times will lead to one having to decide whether he/she is one or the other.
For me, one needs to develop skills from both, and must have the ability to recognize when to be a manager and when to be a leader, and apply the necesary skill set according to the situation.

I do believe that maangers are developed into managers,and leaders are born that way, hence we are hard pressed to think of names of leaders when asked, yet managers are are a dime a dozen. Going back throught my career stops, I recall the names of every single manager I have ever reported to, yet when I try to think of a leader amongst them, I can only come up with two, and both have one sigle attribute that describes them. Thay both had the ability to attract people and inspire them.

So, I guess, managing is a technical skill, and leading is a human skill. One learned, and the other is genetically coded in.

By Sam Jbarah on 2011/05/05

I agree, Sam, that the debate will continue indefinitely. I don’t agree necessarily that leaders are born and not made. That in itself is a debate that will stretch to eternity. Some of my other writing has addressed the born vs. made debate. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

By Jim Taggart on 2011/05/05

I really enjoyed this post Jim.  I agree “that we know it when we see it” which I am able to detect rather quickly from my years of going into thousands of work environments. Even on a brief visit, I “know” if things are not going well. I worked with amazing leaders who were able to “lead” because they readily gave and earned respect, resulting in reciprocity of this throughout the organization. Trust then develops easily and quickly. Creating this environment requires vision, commitment, skill and heart.  Transformational leaders, the most inspiring, embody genuine, authentic attributes and behaviors that set the tone for trust and productivity. People pick up on genuine qualities very quickly.  Despite the growing technical complexity and information explosion, managing people and their interactions effectively, to ensure the work gets done, is more crucial than ever.

By Diane Thompson on 2011/05/05

Thanks Diane. Yes, the “Smell of the Place” when you enter an organization can be quite palpable. By that I mean the prevailing climate in the organization. Greg and I have written independently on the climate-culture issue.

I well recall arriving in Ottawa in January 2000 to start work at a federal department. This was after working almost two decades for CEIC and HRDC in the New Brunswick regional office. Talk about being shell-shocked by a totally different culture and management style. And that was still within the federal public service.

By Jim Taggart on 2011/05/05

Jim, this is certainly a topic that always provokes a reaction!

My approach has always been that leadership should be on the list of required skills for a manager.

I don’t disagree with the preceding comments, that management can be learned and leadership, most often, is what someone is born with.

My observation of this, however,  is that we cannot wait until we happen to hire someone who was born with the required charisma, vision and oratory.  We have to create leaders, and we usually have to work with what we have.  We cannot afford to “wait for Superman”.

I believe there are actions we can teach a manager that will look like leadership.  Not the spectacular, teary-eyed kind, but practical, down-to-earth leadership that gets a company where it needs to go. At the time this may not look like leadership in the classic sense, but in the end, looking back, having overcome obstacles and been successful, it will, in fact, be regarded as leadership.

As with anything else, some individuals will excel at this new orientation, others not so much.  This is normal and the process of promotion on merit - “leadership” being one of the criteria – should see to it that the managers more suited to leadership skills actually do get promoted, and thus we create a powerful management team.  Much better that waiting until the universe tosses us one of these born leaders. 

Of course another problem arises with this approach.  That is the organization’s picture of what leadership looks like.  Having done many workshops on “leadership, following and power”, I can tell you that most people (managers and employees alike) are in the grip of a paradigm when it comes to leadership.  Almost without exception, leaders are described as male, are tall, speak with a deep voice, know everything and have all the power.  Followers, however, are most often described as “sheep”, bereft of ideas and having no power.

This paradigm does a lot of damage, because it convinces many people that they cannot become leaders, or given the position they are in, that they cannot be leaders.

One way of overcoming this is by teaching managers how to act like real leaders – not the paradigm kind.  Pretty soon, leadership will be breaking out all over!

By Phil Hawkins on 2011/06/19

Great thoughts,Phil. There’s indeed a lot of confusion within organizations on what constitutes leadership, its complementarity with management, and, I would add, the near complete lack of understanding of shared leadership and the reality that there are leaders at all levels. Unfortunately, the prevailing mental model is that leadership is positional and that people are appointed to these positions. Managers are appointed; leadership is earned. I can’t be any more pithy than that. :-)

By Jim Taggart on 2011/06/20

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Posted by Jim Taggart
Posted on April 29, 2011

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Categories: competitiveness, current events, hr & talent management, leadership, management