Are you a leader or a manager?

by Kuldip Singh, MASA Board Members

Leadership and management are often used as if they are synonymous; some authors treat leadership as if it is good management. Although there is considerable amount of overlap between leadership and management as suggested by Peter Northhouse (2001), there are significant differences between the two as evidenced by the distinction made by Bennis and Nanus (1995) that:

“Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing.” As Stephen Covey in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” puts it, ‘Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.’

Management can be defined as an activity relationship between a manager and at least one subordinate, where they coordinate activities in order to produce and sell products or services.

Leadership, however, is an influence relationship between leadership and followers, with the intention to change something. Joseph Rost (1991) argues that leadership is ‘a rare phenomenon, not a common one in organizational behaviour’. Rost also believes that management is unidirectional (top-down), as oppose to leadership which is multi-directional (i.e. leaders influence other leaders and followers, and followers influence other followers and leaders.)

Zalesnik (1997) argues that managers are reactive and prefer to work with people to quickly solve problems in an unemotional style. Conversely, leaders are emotionally active, seek to share and expand ideas, and intend to change the way people think about what is possible. John Kotter (1990) addresses the distinction between leadership and management by listing the most important aspects of each.

For management, they are planning and budgeting, organizing and staffing, controlling and problem solving – all of which produces a degree of predictability and order to attain short-term results for stakeholders. For leadership, he lists establishing direction (vision and strategies), analyzing people (communication and team-building), and motivating and inspiring (overcoming barriers and satisfying human needs) – all of which are intended to produce change, often to a dramatic degree. Kotter (1990) also points out that leadership and management are learnable skills that are complimentary to each other. Similarly, Warren Bennis in his book, “On Becoming a Leader” states that management is more focused on implementation, compliance and tactical orientation while leadership is focused on innovation and change inclusion and development, and a strategic orientation.

To illustrate the difference between management and leadership, consider the construction of a new road. To build that road there are workers, machinery and tools which are all vital in the road’s construction. The managers help ensure that the workers, machinery and tools work together in the most efficient way possible. They will mare sure those workers are well trained, motivated, rested and that they know what they are supposed to do next. The manager does the same thing with the tools and the machinery to ensure that they are working correctly and that the workers are able to use them efficiently and safely. This is the role of a manager. However, a leader makes sure that the road is going in the right direction before the construction begins. That leader also monitors conditions in new situations to ensure that the road under construction is still the correct one and still going in the right direction.

People will comply with a manager but will commit only to a leader. The title of a leader cannot be given. It only comes once employees respect the leader, and respect cannot be imposed or ordered. It must be earned. John Maxwell puts it clearly in his best-selling book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” that people must buy into the leader before they will buy into the leader mission.

In conclusion, it can be argues that the difference between leadership and management is a question of projection. It is increasingly agreed that where management is a question of projection. It is increasingly agreed that where management is the art of achieving results within the reality and constraints of today, leadership is about creating and articulating the vision of where we want to be tomorrow, and the skill to get people to follow you there. John Kotter in his book, “Leading Change” suggests that during times of change 70-90% of a manager’s time should be spent on leading and 10-30% on managing. Whereas the disciplines of the former have perhaps been better recognized and applied in the past, the successful organizations of the future will be those that recognize, develop and apply both in equal measure.