Leadership vs. Management – Does it Really Matter?

It’s seems like the profession of management, or supervision, has fallen out of style these days. I hear things like’ “we need more leaders, and less managers”, and “well, she’s a good manager, but not a leader”. 

A lot of leadership books, courses, and gurus espouse the wonderful virtues of leadership, while contrasting against the archaic, horrible characteristics of management. I also see various lists of leadership characteristics, often compared side-by-side to a management list, encouraging aspiring leaders to be more like leaders, and less like managers. As if you can turn off one switch and turn on another.

It’s almost as if they are saying: leadership – good; management – bad. I think the comparison, or differentiation, is kind of silly and isn’t really very helpful when it comes to developing leaders or improving our own leadership skills.

I find it more practical to refer to “leader” as a role, someone who is in a position of leadership (we used to call them managers and supervisors). Someone in one of these roles needs to be effective in order to be successful. 

So what does it take to be effective? Well, there are a thousand books on the subject of what it takes to be an effective leader, everything from “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun”, to “Leadership the Sopranos Way”. I’d rather take a look at some proven, research-based lists of competencies (skills, traits, knowledge).

 Lominger, PDI, CCL, DDI all have done extensive research, studying successful leaders and dissecting what makes them tick. When you look at the lists of competencies, you’ll find elements of leadership (setting a vision, inspiring others) and elements of management (planning, performance management). Follow a successful leader around for a week, and you’ll see her doing many of these things, often during the same meeting of conversation. For example, during a staff meeting the leader might describe a vision for a new idea, then move into planning on how to implement the idea, while getting everyone all fired up and discussing on how to lead the change, to figuring how much it’s going to cost.

So how about if we just focus on what it takes for a leader to be successful in a specific context, and then how to develop those competencies Wouldn’t that be a better use of our time and energy? Although it probably wouldn’t sell a lot of books and make for a dull keynote speech.