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Management vs. Leadership?

Management and leadership or management versus leadership? In many instances, organizations have used these words interchangeably for decades but, as a quick Google search on Management versus Leadership reveals, they mean very different things.

One theme you may notice in the articles from that search is that one (leadership) is seen as something to aspire to and the other (management) is seen as an outdated concept. The Leader is seen as a sort of Superhero, come to save the day and the Manager is seen as a plodding and dull drone or a people-machine operator.

Some examples of phrases I read in my quick search: “Management consists of controlling a group or a set of entities to accomplish a goal. Leadership refers to an individual’s ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organizational success. Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, not power and control.”[1] Management: Mechanical (people are parts of machine; human capital) versus Leaders (display emotional maturity (EI), relationships built through trust and continuous learning.

Here’s a different perspective. In my view, an effective manager needs to be able to be both a leader AND a manager. A manager who focuses only on tasks and transactions will ultimately fail, as will a leader who only focuses on being a visionary. A good leader doesn’t totally move away from transactional tasks such as performance reviews, succession planning, resource planning as these are all critical parts of the job.

Is there an alternate framework that would provide a new lens from which to view this role? Perhaps a leader who can think strategically and through a mission-focused lens, can make these tasks more than transactional. For example, performance reviews are a way to look at work that was done in the past and to plan for the future. A strategic view of performance reviews also focuses on how these tasks support the goals and ultimately the mission or vision of the organization.

Another useful lens addresses the emotional and energetic components of leadership. Viewing direct reports as thought partners rather than interchangeable units or parts of a machine helps to creates a collaborative relationship. Taking a “coach approach” of asking questions instead of making statements develops trust between a leader and those she leads. A leader acting as a coach trusts that the person doing the work will have a stronger solution, and one that he or she is more committed to, than a solution the leader provides. Coaching, to use a cliché, is about teaching an employee to fish rather than providing the fish.

This can be especially challenging because so many leaders are promoted through the ranks and have actually done some of the work that their direct reports are doing. A leader is usually promoted for doing the work well, so it follows that he or she feels that there is basis for just telling the direct report to do something and how to do it.

I have often heard my Leadership Coaching clients say, “It’s just faster to do it myself!” Many times, that is undoubtedly true…and leads to managers who are transactional as well as eventually, burned out. If a manager is doing the work that his direct reports are tasked with doing, where is the brain space and time to create a vision of the future?

What are your thoughts?

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