Management & Leadership


A business needs to have both effective managers and effective leaders; it cannot operate without one of them. Leadership and management are different roles, not different people.  As such, all leaders are managers but not all managers are leaders.  Let me explain further.

There are many in management positions – those who control or administer part of the business who have a title such as “manager”, or “supervisor” or  “director” – who have the necessary management skills (for example, being able to plan, schedule time effectively, manage budgets etcetera). But titles do not make leaders.  To be a leader you need to have people who will willingly follow you.  This has two implications:

  • If no one is following you then you are just a manager.
  • You can have no formal title or authority but, because people follow you, you can be a leader.

As such, leadership is not a noun, it is a verb. But leadership is not just about having followers, and management is not just about control – there are differences that collectively make management and leadership very different but complementary. Kotter concisely defines management and leadership as the following:

“In fact, management is a set of well-known processes, like planning, budgeting, structuring jobs, staffing jobs, measuring performance and problem-solving, which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well. Management helps you to produce products and services as you have promised, of consistent quality, on the budget, day after day, week after week. In organizations of any size and complexity, this is an enormously difficult task. We constantly underestimate how complex this task really is, especially if we are not in senior management jobs. So, management is crucial — but it’s not leadership.

Leadership is entirely different. It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes, it’s about behavior. And in an ever-faster-moving world, leadership is increasingly needed from more and more people, no matter where they are in a hierarchy. The notion that a few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous and it’s a recipe for failure.”

The essence of the difference between management and leadership can be summarized in one sentence: Management is about coping with Complexity; Leadership is about coping with Change.  As such, Management is about Resources, Leadership is about People.  Let’s explore this further in the table below which highlights some of the key differences.

Key differences between management and leadership

Management Leadership
Doing things right… Doing the right things…
Efficiency Effectiveness
Transactional Transformational
Speed Direction
Practices Principles
Things People
Manage complexity Manage change
Drive stability, efficiency, and order Drive innovation, adaptability and change
Task-focused People-focused
Operational role Situational role
Content is important Context is important

As you can see from this list there is a tension between management and leadership which, if you achieve the right balance between the two, can be highly productive and beneficial.  

However, if you have management with weak leadership or leadership with weak management you will have an imbalance. We explore this in the leadership/management matrix.

The Leadership/Management Matrix

So which is more important, management or leadership? This is not the right question to ask, rather the question to ask what is the balance between management and leadership that you need to have? To answer this, you need to at what role each plays. Management ensures the stability and efficiency necessary to run today’s business reliably. Leadership creates the change needed to take advantage of new opportunities, to avoid serious threats, and to create and execute new strategies. The point is that management and leadership are very different, and when organizations are of any size and exist in environments which are volatile, both are essential to helping them win.

The management/leadership matrix show what happens when you have weak or strong leadership interacting with weak or strong management.  The four quadrants are:

  • Doomed – weak management, weak leadership.  Here the business is run inefficiently and with no clear direction to guide and align people’s efforts, decisions and the allocation of resources.  People are not inspired or motivated to achieve high-performance, and the business is losing to its competitors.  The business is unlikely to survive beyond the short-term.
  • Innovative – weak management, strong leadership. Here the business is able to adapt quickly and effectively, but there are insufficient management and associated skills in place to drive stability, efficiency and to create the necessary order to manage the resulting complexity and create order from which to build.
  • Well run but bureaucratic – strong management, weak leadership.  Here the business is well-structured and managed; it works efficiently which is good while the status quo exists.  However, in an environment of change, it finds itself relatively rigid and inflexible with its existing bureaucracy and organization being unable to adapt effectively.  This can expose the business with existing strengths potentially becoming major liabilities, potential competitors going unrecognized or changes in customer need going unmet.
  • Well run and innovative – strong management, strong leadership.  Here there is a healthy balance of management and leadership skills and capacity.  The business has a clear direction around which everyone and all actions is aligned, people are inspired and motivated, and as a result, they work both efficiently and effectively.  They are competitive, adaptive and have the right mix of skills, capacity enabled by a strong business culture which supports the people in their work.

Over-managed and Under-led

A common complaint in most businesses is that they are over-managed and under-led (in the bottom-right quadrant of the matrix, bureaucratic). Those at the top of the hierarchy (note I do not call them leaders) are often more focused on doing things right (management) rather than doing the right things (leadership).

Over recent years the emphasis of senior management has been on having an efficient business (management) rather than an effective business (leadership).  In pursuing this they have focused on getting the business processes (management) right, rather than the people right (leadership).  This focuses senior management on controlling people (management), not on helping them collaborate (leadership).

Part of this problem has been historical in that for many years businesses operated in a relatively static environment and having a management focus made sense. Now we are in an environment of accelerating change. We are experiencing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) at an unprecedented level and rate.

The problem with many businesses being overmanaged and underled is that the business focuses on maintaining the status quo at a time when people need to change to meet the new challenges and opportunities.  This creates an organization that is inflexible, backward-looking and slow to change. We need to change as fast as the world around us to avoid becoming obsolete.

To overcome VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Agility) we need to develop, articulate and drive across the business a clear Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility.  This is all about dealing with change and helping people to embrace that change successfully.  In short, it is the work of a leader and not a manager.  It is a case of the old adage – what got you here won’t get you there! Leadership is more important than ever in these changing times.

If you want to be successful in your career, your business and your life then change always starts with you! You need to adapt and change yourself first before you can help others to do so.  You need to move from being a manager to being a leader.  You need to become agile in what you do, to challenge the status quo and to become comfortable with ambiguity and volatility. If this is uncomfortable for you then you can stay a manager – but be prepared for a life with fewer challenges, fewer options, and fewer opportunities.

To view or download a PDF version of this blog click here

Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

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Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

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