Leadership or Management?

Dr. Phil has convinced a whole generation that “you have to name it to claim it” – but when the “naming” causes confusion what do we do? English is a confusing language at the best of times. Whether you are learning about the weather, walking with a peer on the pier, finding a fly on your fly or going to their place over there – it is anything but straight forward. This language confusion naturally flows over into business. So back to Dr. Phil, what happens then the naming confuses the claiming? Confused about whether you should aim to be a leader or manager? Let’s get clear so you can name it and claim it! Our source of clarity? The McQuarie Dictionary.
  • Leader : The person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.
  • Leadership: The action of leading a group of people or an organization.
  • Manager: A person responsible for controlling or administering an organization or group of staff.
  • ManagementThe process of dealing with or controlling things or people.
Now lets use those words in a sentence “I manage the company because I am a leader” or should that be “I lead the company because I am a manager?” That is about as clear as mud. So let’s try that again. Let’s look at some ‘leadership and management gurus’ to get clarity.
  • “Manager do things right, Leaders do the right things” Drucker
  • “Above all, management is responsible for producing results” Drucker
  • “The manager accepts the status quo, the leader challenges it” Bennis
  • “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” Bennis
  • “Management works in the system; leadership works on the system.” Covey
  • “You manage things; you lead people.” Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper”
Based on that information “I am claiming leader not a manager!” Which of course, is what pretty well everyone in the business community is thinking. In fact, it is very rare to be asked to do “management” training. After all, who wants to be a manager? I know first hand that the general thought “out there” is manager = bad, leader = good. But don’t get too comfortable because all you need to do is open another book and you find sentences like this one.

” Good managers should strive to be good leaders and good leaders, need management skills to be effective.” [Leadership in Health Care]

Still confused? Surely turning to a best selling book on the topic such as Jim Collins, Good to Great (over four million copies sold world wide), can solve this conundrum. He makes the case that most larger organizations are comprised of five levels of leaders.

  1. Level 1 — Highly Capable Individual: Makes productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills, and good work habits.
  2. Level 2 — Contributing Team Member: Contributes individual capabilities to the group objective, and works well in a group setting.
  3. Level 3 — Competent Manager: Organizes people and resources toward efficient and effective pursuit of desired outcomes.
  4. Level 4 — Effective Leader: Catalyst for vigorous pursuit of vision, and stimulates higher performance standards.
  5. Level 5 — Executive: This highest level of management in an organization builds enduring greatness through an unusual blend of personal humility and professional will. Their resolve is to do whatever is needed to make the organization “great.”

Collins further states that the essence of “great leadership is effective management of oneself and others in response to a variety of situations.”

Still confused? You can always turn to one of the 1200 new books on leadership published annually each year in the US alone! But I have a feeling that will create more confusion than clarity. So, where to from here? Maybe a trip down memory lane can create some new perspective.

What’s the Context ?

What is missing in all of this? Context. When we are training and development leadership teams, the context is business and organisations.

The concept of leaders and leadership has been around since the beginning of mankind. (Context = community, religion, politics.) Leaders have always been those people who lead us toward new beginnings, toward greater visions, toward a better future. It is worth noting that a majority of those we worship as great leaders did not ‘have to achieve results’, they followed their passion, they stood up for their beliefs, they had a strong vision, and then, as they communicated their passion and vision, like minded souls joined them, willingly, on their journeys. They were the original ‘people people’.

Conversely, the first body of knowledge on management (context = business) came about as a result of the industrial revolution. Typically stated as the scientific management theory of Frederick W. Taylor (cica 1911). This was the evolution of management as we know it today. ‘Managers‘ were engaged by the owners of factories to drive tangible results regardless of the impact on people. The result – a lot of bad managers and the birthing of a ‘management culture’ that has permeated all the way to the 21st Century. After all “it’s business, it’s not personal.”

100 years later and we put leaders (out of context) on the podium and relegate managers to the back office. A concept reinforced by much of the training and education industry reinforcing this paradigm.

Why is this subject fascinating to me?

Because I fail to see why, in this day and age, we are separating the two. If you have staff reporting to you, you need to know how to drive outcomes that matter to the organisation (management?) whilst maximising the connection, motivation and energy of the team and the individual team members (leadership?). They are not, and should not be considered mutually exclusive. Today we want to drive great outcomes for our organisations, our world and our people. This is a far cry from the management of the industrial era. We need to re-balance our management and leadership theories and education to integrate the two.

We need to make management sexy again. So here is my attempt.

Management today is great organisational leadership in action.!

Side note: I know what you are thinking. You can be a leader and not have any staff. Yes, you are correct, but again the context matters. In this article I am focusing on the context of “management or leadership”.


Gabby Button is a Co-Founder of The Wisdom Playground and Director of the Australian Institute of Leaders and Entrepreneurs. She is an award winning trainer, facilitator and coach. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook and if you are a coach why not jump into our private facebook group to stay up to date and gain access to ongoing tips, networking opportunities and other learning resources.

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