Misconceptions About Leadership and Management

07/20/2016 11:02 am ET

If you talk to enough people, you will find, as we have, many different and often contradictory answers to questions about management and leadership. The two words are often used interchangeably, suggesting that they mean roughly the same thing. They do not.

Management and leadership are very different in terms of actions, processes, and behavior. A one-page authentic and compelling vision that helps us see the direction in which we need to be moving is far from a thorough and thoughtful hundred-page (or five-hundred-page) operating plan. A carefully crafted process of inclusion and communication that helps to create a passionate group wanting to be a part of the journey is vastly different from an execution plan with budgets, organization charts, job descriptions, and a focus on the right “skill sets” to do the job. Inspiring and encouraging people, touching their hearts and minds, and creating energy to overcome frustrating obstacles is very different from measuring results and rewarding or punishing people based on the metrics.

We are just as often told that leadership is related entirely to hierarchy level: Leadership is what the [meerkat] Alphas do and management is what the Betas do. But is it not true today that “Older Sisters and Brothers” who are much lower in a hierarchy than the Betas sometimes provide excellent leadership in their areas, to the benefit of all? And don’t most of us have real-life examples of Alphas who no one thinks provide much leadership? In a similar sense, how often have we been told that leadership is only about what larger-than-life figures do? Even if we know that that cannot be entirely true, what effect do you think it has on us when such a message is repeated many times year after year after year?

Also, some people have been saying for at least the past few decades that leadership is increasingly needed and good, and should replace management, which is inherently clunky, bureaucratic, and command-control. But what happens with size and complexity if management is missing? Management and leadership serve different functions: The first can get the regular work done well, reliably, and efficiently, even in exceptionally large and complex systems; the second can energize us, despite barriers, to innovate swiftly and propel us into a prosperous future, despite changing problems and opportunities.

Management and leadership are not two ways to achieve the same end. They serve different ends, both of which are essential in complex organizations that operate in changing environments. In a large organization in a protected world that changes little, good management is overwhelmingly important—and, in a way, sufficient. In a small organization, perhaps opening a new market niche in a world where tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities can change greatly at any time, leadership is overwhelmingly the key issue. For anywhere else, which includes tens if not hundreds of thousands of organizations on our planet today, it is both: because of their size or complexity (demanding management), and because they can’t hide from the incredible technological and other forces creating change (demanding leadership). Management and leadership are not incompatible as partners in an enterprise, although it can sometimes seem that way. It is not a matter of having one “or” the other, because they are so different: one emphasizing control of the masses of people, for example, the other a reasonably high degree of freedom and choice among people who can come from any part of that mass. In an organization of some size, in a world that is moving with speed and disruptions, does success not demand “and also”?

And why can it not be “and also”? Why not have controls in a hierarchical structure driving a plan to get today’s work done exceptionally well and a sizable degree of freedom within a network structure guided by a clear directional vision to help people innovate, remove obstacles, reduce frustrations, and move everyone as fast as possible into the future?

That’s Not How We Do It Here! is now on sale from Portfolio/Penguin Random House.

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
CONVERSATIONS