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What ‘s the difference between leadership and management?


This feature was contributed by Robert C. Ginnett PhD, Senior Fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership.

In the world of organisations in which many of us live, be they small or huge, the words leadership and management crop up all the time. Neither term is new, but both are often misunderstood.

Management brings to mind concepts like efficiency, planning, procedures, regulations, and consistency. Management is largely rational and this makes it a whole lot easier to teach. If it is rational, we can easily write about it, we can test it, and it makes sense. We can even have our computers do a fair amount of our managerial work because computers are absolutely rational.

When MBA students receive their diploma, they believe they have received truth. However, with more education, more experience, and a broader perspective on what happens in organisations, they come to realize that their MBA programme had given them only a perspective on truth. If there is one word that best characterises the world of management, it is control. Managerial accounting, managerial finance, management of human resources and the like are about planning how to reach a target, tracking deviations from the most efficient path, and exercising control to get things back where they need to be.

Leadership is a more value-laden activity than management. Leadership is about risk taking, creativity, change and vision. Leadership is often non-rational. It is about stirring people’s souls and spirits as well as their minds. It demands that we understand ourselves and how we work with other people because leaders and followers must go hand in hand. Leadership isn’t done in a closet, leadership is done in the presence of others.

So if we are to understand leadership, we must go beyond standard methods of teaching and learning. We must deal with emotions and fears, with letting go and taking on new ideas. And because it is not about control, we probably need to learn about failing as well.

Some have said, "leadership is about doing the right things" and "management is about doing things right." Warren Bennis, respected consultant and author of On Becoming a Leader, has suggested some other distinctions: managers administer, leaders innovate; managers maintain, leaders develop; managers control, leaders inspire; managers have a short-term view, leaders have a long-term view; managers ask how and when, leaders ask what and why; managers imitate, leaders originate; managers accept the status quo, leaders challenge it.

Are leaders and managers really different kinds of people? One psychologist, Abraham Zaleznik, has argued that they really are different. He says that people are drawn to management by their underlying nature, and similarly leaders are pulled toward leading because of who they are. In fairness to both positions, Zaleznik points out that managers are not better than leaders or vice versa; they are just different. History seems to often be on the side of this kind of argument. General George Patton was a well-acknowledged leader, but his management skills left something to be desired. On the other hand, Alfred Sloan controlled a massive organisation at General Motors and his management techniques and practices are still studied today, but leadership in the American automotive industry suffered in the last half of the 1900s.

What seems to make the most sense today is to recognise that leadership and management are both important in today’s organisations. An organisation with only leaders will be constantly changing the vision and never arriving at any of them. An organisation with only managers may very efficiently produce an unwanted and unneeded product or service. Importantly, leadership and management are not mutually exclusive. There are behaviours with considerable overlap, just as there are behaviors unique to each. And the best news of all seems to be that, no matter what one’s innate preference may be, both sets of behaviors can be learned over time.

During a recent Center for Creative Leadership seminar I was conducting, a participant raised his hand and asked me the following question: "Which would you say is most important: leadership or management?" After a pause to consider both the question and its implications, I responded with this question: "What do you think is more important: breathing in or breathing out?" That’s why this article is entitled Leadership and Management.

What do you think is the difference - or the relation - between leadership and management? Have your say.


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