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Managers Who Aren’t Leaders, And Vice Versa December 30, 2011

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics.
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This recent post by Linda Hill and Kent Lineback from the HBR Blog Network got me thinking: “I’m a leader, not a manager”. One highlighted quote from that post: “Both leadership and management are crucial, and it doesn’t help those responsible for the work of others to romanticize one and devalue the other.” The authors suggest that the emphasis on leadership starting in the late 1980s and early 1990s came about in part because “traditional management as practiced by U.S. businesses didn’t promote change and innovation.” This has led to a devaluing of the skills traditionally practiced by managers — including “steady execution and control” — and a romanticizing of leadership.

It does seem that the practice of leadership has come to represent a noble endeavor in the business world. I think it’s pretty widely-understood that you don’t have to be a manager to be a leader. One could even argue that a leader who isn’t burdened by the administrative responsibilities of personnel and expense management might be more effective in building cross-functional networks, organizing others to execute plans, and driving change. I would go further and say that a person should be considered qualified for a management position only after they have demonstrated their ability to do all these things in a non-management position.

Note that aspiring managers can learn resource management skills in a program/project management role that does not include accountability for the performance of subordinates, what I sometimes call “management with a small m.”

Management (with a capital M) is clearly an important practice in any organization, and it’s hard to imagine how a business can succeed with leaders and no managers. That being said, I recall an interesting HBR case study from my MBA years involving W.L. Gore & Associates and their flat organization structure with no formal chain of command and “associates” who follow leaders rather than “bosses,” but this is an uncommon model that has not been widely adopted (Why? Is it too risky or “unnatural?”).

Managers are vested with authority for work assignments, performance reviews and administration of HR policies, however managers who are not perceived as leaders risk becoming marginalized as bureaucrats who strictly follow established processes and are not open to new ideas. Managers who feel threatened by leaders from outside the chain of command may use their positional power to maintain the status quo and resist needed change. Businesses need effective leadership and effective management (small m or capital M), and a culture that balances and values both practices when they’re exercised throughout the organization.

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Comments»

1. PM Hut - January 2, 2012

Hi Tim,

I have published something very similar to the blog at HBR: http://www.pmhut.com/leadership-vs-management . I hope you’ll have the chance to read it and maybe comment on it if you have the time!


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