Which is More Important, Being a Good Manager or Being a Good Leader?
Today, leaders are required to wear many hats. Combine this with a newly virtual, or work-from-anywhere workforce, and your team is leading or managing in a more and more complex environment. Whether keeping a team on the same page or coaching individuals one-on-one, both leaders and managers must be acutely aware of the roles that they play in their organization.
It's important to note, though, that people don’t give sufficient thought to the distinction between management and leadership and how both show up in their day-to-day responsibilities. We believe that in order to get the best outcomes, the intentional practice of both leadership and management skills is important. Let’s talk about the difference between the two.
Understanding the difference between leadership and management allows us to choose the right approach for any given situation. Warren Bennis has done much to popularize the distinction between leadership and management with the now-famous quote: "Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing” (Learning to Lead).
“Management is about coping with complexity… Without good management, organizations tend to become chaotic in ways that threaten their very existence. Good management brings a degree of order and consistency to key dimensions like the quality and profitability of products” (Kotter, Harvard Business Review, 2011).
“Leadership is about coping with change. The business world has become more competitive and more volatile, and major changes are more and more necessary to survive and compete effectively… More change always demands more leadership” (Kotter, Harvard Business Review, 2011).
People can manage and lead. Once companies understand the fundamental difference between leadership and management, they can begin to develop managers to provide both—and they can develop the whole leader.
Leadership vs. management skills
During our sessions we often ask participants to list the characteristics of leadership vs. the characteristics of management. From the perspective of creating a simple list, people do a great job, essentially agreeing with Bennis above.
For instance, management characteristics people tend to identify include telling, directing, scheduling, budgeting, etc.
Leadership skills that people tend to list include strategic thinking, inspiring, motivating, innovating, etc.
After building these two lists, the follow-up question is: Which is more important, being a good manager or being a good leader? The great majority of the time, people respond with the absolutely correct answer: “It’s important to be both.”
Henry Mintzberg sums up the need for being a leader-manager best: “I think people who lead without managing don’t know what is going on; just like people who manage without leading are very discouraging” (Mintzberg, 2011).
Daily practice: Leading vs. managing
The more challenging aspect of leadership vs. management is found in our day-to-day business interactions. Specifically, when do we use leadership skills versus management skills? It’s much harder to delineate between the two when you’re caught up in the whirlwind of your day.
Before we go any deeper, let’s look at a sample (not all-encompassing) list of the skills for each.
|Delegate tasks||Set vision & direction|
|Skills training||Inspire & motivate|
|Project oversight||Create space for others to thrive (talent development)|
|Process implementation & improvement||Innovation|
|Performance feedback (positive, constructive)||Promote collaboration/cross-functional influence|
|Goal setting||Servanthood (other-centered)|
|Decision making||Share successes|
|Information sharing||Input gathering|
Considering the sample lists above, if someone is more comfortable with management skills, that is what they will default to even when leadership skills are more appropriate. If they are more comfortable with leadership skills, then that is what they will fall back on even when management skills are more appropriate. If these skills aren't integrated, you can end up with a team of uninspiring managers or chaos-causing leaders.
Most situations do, in fact, call for the integration of both management and leadership skills. However, it’s the ability to differentiate between which leadership skills and which management skills may be called for in any given situation that will help one be most effective.
For instance, if you delegate and train your people (management skills), but don’t create space for them to thrive (leadership skills), your people may not prosper. If they are tasked with managing a cross-functional project but don’t promote collaboration or utilize cross-functional influence, they may not get engagement across team members. If your leaders or managers develop business plans and goals, but don’t position them within an inspiring vision, their team may not share their passion for achieving them.
To truly be able to integrate management and leadership skills, your team needs to be aware of their strengths and opportunities in both the areas of leadership and management. As you look at the list above — where do you see areas of most opportunity and most strength for your team? In order for them to be a well-rounded leader throughout the course of their career, you will want them to work on both sets.
Many managers and leaders alike are promoted with little or no formal leadership or management training. Need to develop a mix of skills on your team? Develop fundamental leadership skills with The Leadership Challenge, developed with insight from over 30 years of research, and proven to increase the leadership potential of anyone, at any level, and in any organization. In addition, you can equip your managers with the fundamentals of management, and a deep understanding of the role of manager and the essential skills needed for effective management with Management Vitals.